To Be an American: Unpacking the Land of the Free

 

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Isabella Gonzalez Potter

McCarthy Fellow ’16

Isabella Potter served as a McCarthy Fellow this past summer working as an intern for Tony Thurmond, Chair of Assembly Labor and Employment Committee. The following post is an Op-Ed that was written as a part of McCarthy Fellow course, taken in conjunction with the 12-week fellowship. Isabella graduated in 2016 with a B.S. in Environmental Science with a minor in Latin American Studies and is currently still working with Assembly member, Tony Thurmond.

 

I have been thinking a lot about separating the personal from the professional. But how can politics not be personal? How can my physical appearance or anyone else’s not be political within a system that has everything to do with the color of your skin? The neighborhood you were raised in. The family you belong to. The community that you come from.

In lieu of recent events (by events I mean murder) I have been spending a lot of time on Facebook, reading, digesting, attempting to process. Today one of my Facebook friends posted something that caught my attention and was receiving many comments; “…we are Americans before we are ethnic and racial groups.” My first thought was what type of kool aid is he drinking? He himself is a person of color and my intent here is not to call him out, but break down what this means to me. What this means on my timeline as I scroll through the hash tags, news articles and video clips of killing. The continual cries by myself and my friends who are scared for their life in this country. Who never really feel safe anymore because so many people who look like us are being killed everyday and you don’t want the next hash tag to be your name.

What does it mean to never really be free in a country that calls itself the land of the free? Living here in “America” (I mean the United States because everyone seems to have forgotten about Central and South America) undeniably awards us with privilege within this country. People have died to make this so, including of course Police Officers and other Armed Forces who fight and risk their lives everyday. What is missing from the dominant narrative is the story of people who risk their lives everyday by simply existing within a political structure that wasn’t made for them. It means fearing the people who are supposed to protect you. This NOT to say that I do not like police officers, or the law, but rather the fact that even when you comply you might end up shot 5 times because you are seen as a threat to the one who is pulling the trigger.

I am an American, yes. But, I am a young, brown woman born to Spanish-speaking immigrant parents who lives in America. I grew up in the America that legalized racial profiling in my hometown, banned Mexican American History at my high school, and that built a literal fence to keep out people who are seen as alien, including my family. Being an American in 2016 means you are your Ethnic group before you are a person, and that won’t change until people stop dying for the color of their skin.

 

Introducing our Fall 2016-17 USF in Washington, D.C. Fellows

USF in DC participants are undergraduate students selected for a semester-long program in Washington, DC that integrates a full-time internship with relevant coursework taught by USF faculty and University of California Washington Program (UC DC) faculty. Students choose from a range of elective courses and internship opportunities that meet their interests and skill sets and spend their semester engaging with peers from across the country in the heart of the capital, where they will live, learn, and explore all that DC has to offer. Meet our current cohort of USF in DC students and learn about their hopes and expectations for the coming semester.

 

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Ali DeFazio ’18

Internship: Brookings Institution

Ali DeFazio is a junior at the University of San Francisco. While in D.C., she will be interning for the Brookings Institution, voted “Best Think Tank in the World” for the last nine years by the Global Go To Think Tanks Report. Ali says that getting to the front of the bagel line before the 8 AM crowd is the “Best Feeling in the World” voted by USF students. In addition to her internship in D.C., Ali plans to make it on the background of NPR’s “Live in Concert” and go to every Smithsonian.

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Sydney Abel ’17

Internship: Department of Homeland Security – Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Sydney Abel is a senior this year at USF, majoring in Politics, minoring in Legal studies. When she isn’t playing rugby for USF’s champion woman’s team, you can find her slack lining at Golden Gate Park or walking along one of San Francisco’s many beaches. An avid traveler, Sydney transferred to USF from San Diego but not before she studied abroad for a year in Maastricht, Netherlands. Someday she would love to be voted into a public office, or just travel the world. Never one to miss a traveling opportunity, once she heard about USF in D.C., she knew that this program was just right for her. Eager to change the world for the better, she wants to learn everything there is to know about Washington and the political process.

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Guadalupe (Lupita) Garcia ’18

Internship: Revolution Messaging

Lupita Garcia is a Sociology Major and triple minor in Criminal Justice, Public Service and Community Engagement, and Chican@-Latin@ Studies. While in D.C. she will be interning with Revolution Messaging as a Digital Strategy/Client-Service intern where she will be working on advertising projects for campaigns using mobile messaging and social media. Through her participation in USF in D.C., she hopes to gain the skills that will prepare her to gain a career in public policy advocacy and continue to cross borders and discover home.

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Gabbi McDaniel ’17

Internship: UN Population Fund

As a senior International Studies major, Gabbi McDaniel will be applying her USF education in the field as an intern for the UN Population Fund. USF in D.C. will allow her to pursue her ideal internship, take classes on politics and advocacy, and develop a network within our Nation’s capital. She is looking forward to experiencing everything Washington D.C. has to offer especially during a Presidential election.

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Diana Conteras Chavez ’17

Internship: Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund

This fall Diana will be interning with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund. She is excited to learn more about immigration policy and advocacy in D.C. Since it is her first time in D.C., Diana is thrilled to see the monuments and museums, and try out all the new brunch spots!

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 Tara Kahn Sac ’17

Internship:  Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

Tara Khan is currently pursuing a degree in International Studies with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies and focus in Global Politics & Societies. Following graduation, she hopes to relocate to Washington D.C. and work for the U.S. government while also studying for the Foreign Services test. She is spending her semester in D.C. working on Capitol Hill, interning for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Working in the House of Representatives has been an extremely rewarding and eye-opening experience, none of which would have been possible without the Newmark Scholarship. Being a Newmark Scholar has convinced her that she made the right choice in her decision to pursue a career in politics.

 

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Assala Mami ’18

Internship: Center of American Progress

Assala is a Politics major with a double minor in Legal Studies and French Studies. She has an interest in foreign affairs and public policy and is excited to get to know the political scene in D.C. While in the  nation’s capitol, Assala plans to visit all the monuments and museums, of course and take trips to neighboring states.

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Meet our 2016-17 Advocates for Community Engagement (ACEs)

Advocates for Community Engagement are socially responsible, civically engaged student leaders who facilitate meaningful service-learning experiences for USF students, faculty, and their host organizations. Primarily, ACEs act as liaisons to ensure the needs and expectations of all stakeholders are accounted for and prioritized. Each ACE makes a one-year commitment to work onsite at Bay Area nonprofit organizations. Meet our current cohort of ACEs  and learn about their hopes and expectations for the coming academic year.

 

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 Nell Bayliss

Major: Critical Diversity Studies

Minor: Public Service and Community Engagement

Year: Junior

Living Learning Community: Martin-Baró Scholars 

Nell Bayliss was born and raised in Washington D.C. and that fact ignites her passion for studying Critical Diversity Studies. She is was a part of both the Martin-Baró Scholars and Esther-Madríz Diversity Scholars living learning communities. She is excited to bring her experience from  both living learning communities into her ACE position this year.

 

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Alejandro Cuevas

Major: Latin American Studies

Minor: Dual Degree in Teaching Program

Year: Senior

Living Learning Community: Erasmus  

Alejandro’s experiences both on campus and off campus have prepared him for his role as an Advocate for Community Engagement in multiple ways. His involvement as a student in Erasmus this last year has impacted his view on service learning and issues globally. Experiences doing community organizing have helped him develop skills that will support his involvement as an advocate for community engagement. He is excited to grow as a student and supporting students through their service learning experience.

 

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Amanda Geraldo

Major: Communication Studies

Minor: Theater

Year: Senior

Community Partner Site: Upward Bound

After studying abroad in London last semester, Amanda is very excited to be back as an ACE. In addition to this role, she is actively involved on campus with Dance Generators, Magis Emerging Leadership Program, Lambda Pi Eta, and the Arrupe Immersion program. She has always had a passion for working with youth and is excited to continue exploring this passion through her ACE partnership this year.

 

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Alexa Gonzalez

Major: Politics // International Studies // Latin American Studies

Year: Senior

Community Partner Site: Viviendas Leon

Alexa grew up in Nogales, Sonora—a border town where you can travel from Mexico to the United States in less than 10 minutes. One of her most rewarding college experiences has been working with environmental groups to complete an independent research project focusing on analyzing social resistances emerging in response to the extractivist agribusiness model in the Industrial Belt in Rosario, Argentina. She is very excited to work with Vivendas Leon and support service learners in their projects.

 

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Greta Karisny

Major: Sociology

Minor: Public Service and Community Engagement

Year: Senior

Community Partner Site: 826 Valencia-Tenderloin Center

Greta’s second year as an ACE  is spent working in partnership with 826 Valencia for the 2016/17 school year.She loves being a part of the ACE community and the space it creates for positive discussions towards social justice, community-building, and personal growth. Last year she partnered with Upward Bound USF and had an incredible experience working with the organization, service learning students, and the students that they serve. She had the opportunity to do her direct service with their after-school program at Mission High School and fell in love with the students and the school.Her time at Mission was one of the most positive experiences she’s had at the ACE program and throughout her college career. She is so excited to begin to build relationships with students at 826 this year and to be able to see their growth as the school year continues.

 

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Kiana Rai Martinez

Major: Double major in Sociology and Critical Diversity Studies with a Minor in Public Service and Community Engagement

Year: Junior

Living Learning Community: Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars Living Learning Community

Kiana was a member of cohort ten of the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars prompting her to pursue a role that gave her the chance to continue working with the program. She enjoys surrounding herself with people who challenge her to think critically and flourish — just two of the traits she sees in the Esther Madriz Scholars, year after year.

 

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Sonia Hurtado Ureño

Major: Sociology and Latin American Studies

Year: Senior

Community Partner Site: Mission Graduates

Sonia Hurtado Ureno was born in Fremont, California to Mexican immigrants. Her experiences as a low income, first generation Chicana has led her to participate in activist efforts during her time at USF. As an ACE, she looks forward to working with first generation college bound students and current students.

 

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Chiweta Uzoka

Major: Politics

Minor: Legal Studies

Year: Junior

Community Partner Site: Bayview Hunter’s Point Community Legal

Chiweta Rozaline Uzoka is Secretary of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated – Tau Tau Chapter, President of Sister Connection, and a member of the Black Student Union here at USF. She was also a member of Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars living-learning community and is currently a peer mentor in this community as well. She is excited to be working with Bayview Legal and moving towards universal access to legal services and representation.

 

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Miriam Uribe

Major: Politics, Latin American Studies, and International Studies

Year: Junior

Community Partner Site: Generation Citizen

During her time here at USF, Miriam has been a strong advocate for more resources for undocumented students in our community. It has been an experience that has allowed her to reflect on the power of story telling to create change. She is excited to work with Generation Citizen this year and redefine what “citizenship” means.

 

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Vivienne Pismarov

Major: Psychology/Legal Studies

Year: Sophomore

Community Partner Site: Faithful Fools

Vivienne Pismarov is a first-year ACE who is excited to explore social justice issues with the McCarthy Center. She was part of the Martín-Baró Scholars Living-Learning Community here at USF last year where she first became interested in engaging issues of diversity and homelessness in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. Additionally, Vivienne is interested in how legal policies in San Francisco can be modified or created to help better address homelessness, women’s rights issues, and environmental problems.

 

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Nichole Vasquez

Major: Kinesiology

Year: Senior

Community Partner Site:Family House

On campus, Nichole has had different experiences that have prepared her for the ACE role. Her first service experience in college was as a democracy coach with Generation Citizen, where she facilitated a class of seventh graders leading them through a service project. Her experience with Generation Citizen sparked a passion for service that she is excited to continue this year with Family House!

 

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Resiliency – as an Act of Political Welfare

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 Nolizwe Nondabula, Youth Health Alliance Program Coordinator

   Engage San Francisco, USF Campus-Community Partnership

 

Reflecting back on my journey with USF’s Master of Arts in Urban Affairs program, I definitely did not see myself continuing a relationship with the Leo T. McCarthy Center after graduation in Spring of this year. My first year in the program was a critical time as the Movement for Black Lives gained momentum and the conversation between police and state violence on Black people made national headlines. My focus as a graduate student was on racial justice, which meant taking classes with an emphasis on racial policies, interning at Race Forward, and working with the Brown Boi Project and PolicyLink.

When I wasn’t in the classroom or in the office, I was on the bus to Ferguson, waking up Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaaf, and shutting down the Bay Bridge. I was angry and determined to interrupt business as usual until folks knew that all Black Lives Matter.
And while my body told me to slow down, I refused to listen. The urgency I felt from the movement told me to find a way to balance my activism life with my academic life. And though I carried the magic of my ancestors, I soon realized that I also carried the weight of those that came before me.

As I began my last year of grad school, I burned out…hard. My anxiety was at an all-time high, I was tired of being tired, and the desensitization of Black death made it harder for me to attend class, go to work, or get out of bed.

Through the guidance and support of my tribe, I made appointments to see my therapist (and stuck with it) and I thus began to unpack my personal journey around mental health and trauma. This journey is not easy but as a Black Queer Woman living in the United States, it’s necessary. Said best by Audre Lorde, womanist, writer and civil activist,  “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political welfare.”

I believe that we will win this fight for equality, but we need the presence of everyone in the movement to do so. So what happens if, as another tactic, we focus on the resiliency of our communities? Both individually and collectively? In pursuit of my own healing, I’ve recognized my need to lean into the discomfort and stigmatization around trauma so that I can plant my seeds of affirmations and self-love.

So when I was told about the position of the Youth Health Alliance Program Coordinator as part of USF’s Engage San Francisco Campus-Community Partnership, I felt like I was planting another seed towards this continuous journey. Engage San Francisco is very hyper-local in its focus and is asset-based in its philosophy so I have had the privilege of witnessing community magic bask from within, while building relationships with different stakeholders. I’m honored to be a part of spaces where the collective passion and eagerness serves as the foundation to produce community-identified goals in the Western Addition.Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 11.23.12 AM.png

Within my position, my focus is on the emotional well-being of Western Addition youth. I work closely with Western Addition service providers, community members, city agencies and USF staff and faculty in crafting a shared vision of behavioral health. Last week, Engage San Francisco, in partnership with Rhonda Magee, USF Professor of Law with a Social Justice focus, started a 7-week course on Mindfulness and Compassion Based Skills for Stress Management. Classes are free and open to Western Service Providers and community members. And if the amount of vulnerability I’ve already seen is any indication of what’s to come, then I can only imagine how transformative this course will be for those enrolled.

I’m grateful to be a part of the conversation on youth wellness in the Western Addition. I look forward to learning from existing community partnerships while holding on to the fact that we are our ancestor’s wildest dreams. Because, in the end, we are the ones that we’ve been waiting for.

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A Lesson from John Lewis and MARCH the Trilogy

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Ayah Mouhktar

 B.A. Media Studies ’18

Ayah is the new social media assistant for the McCarthy Center and worked on the co-sponsored speaker’s event with Congressman John Lewis on the campus of USF on Wednesday, August 17, 2016.

 

John Lewis was not a big part of my life growing up, he was not my idol and truthfully, I did not know who he was outside from what I read online about him.

Now, John Lewis is one of the biggest influences I have in my life, and it only took him one night of speaking for 20 minutes to a crowd of 200 people for me to realize that. I did not know what I was missing before hearing his voice resonate to a crowd of people of all races, gender and socio-economic class.

I walked into the event not knowing what to expect. Would there be a ton of suit and tie high profile people looking for photo ops, or important donors for USF that we had to impress? And to my surprise the first person that greeted me was a 6th grader named Heaven who I mentored while working for Magic Zone, an afterschool program dedicated to aiding students in the community with homework.

Heaven reminded me of someone I wish I was when I was in 6th grade. Growing up in New Jersey I was nervous and anxious for the future and I kept that anxiety with me for a long time, I was afraid to speak in public, I was afraid to have people know how I was feeling and Heaven was the exact opposite. She knew when she wanted to be heard, she articulated her ideas with such force that whoever she was talking to would have to remain silent to fully grasp what she wanted to say. She was hopeful, bright, smart and funny. Every quality I desperately needed when I was growing up.

Heaven was excited to hear and see John Lewis, an opportunity she said was like “meeting a celebrity.” Her joy, the light in her eyes and the excitement in her tone of voice reassured me that the future generation is not a lost cause, they are not phone addicts who are addicted to social media, but they are young, hopeful individuals who are hungry for knowledge and Heaven was the prime example of that.

If I took anything away from the John Lewis event it was not a quote from John Lewis himself, but rather a quote from his co writer, Andrew Aydin.

There was a portion during the event where people in the crowd could write anonymous questions/comments, so I took a notecard, wrote a question I thought would never get answered and handed it back to the program director. Ironically, my question was the first to be answered, “When I was younger I was so afraid of not having my voice heard, and now, being a Black Muslim woman in America I’m just afraid. What do you do to not only conquer your fears but to make sure your voice is heard?”

When prompted with the question he replied with a quote that will resonate with me forever, “Be you as loud as you can. Make everyone know who you are. If they don’t like it, they will get out of the way.”

I will be me – and be as loud as I can, and I will do so knowing that I have the support from Andrew Aydin and John Lewis himself.

 

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Reflection on Tolman

David Donahue Director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center

David Donahue
Director, Leo T. McCarthy Center

As I prepare to teach “Urban School Reform,” an elective in the Masters of Arts in Urban Affairs program, I googled William E. Tolman High School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the school where I began my teaching career over thirty years ago as a student teacher. 1024px-Pawtucket_HSThe first page of entries included links with titles like, “Pawtucket launches inquiry into student ‘takedown’ at Tolman” and “Students pepper-sprayed, cuffed during Tolman HS protest.” The first three entries on the Wikipedia page for the high school are “Thanksgiving football rivalries,” “dropout rate,” and “security issues.” According to the Wikipedia report, only 54% of the schools first year students go on to graduate, a dropout rate that resulted in the school being labeled a “dropout factory” in a Johns Hopkins study. The security issues section is a depressing catalog of shootings and violence in and around the school. I’m not sure what’s sadder: that the school began requiring photo IDs for all students to improve security or that the photo ID program was eventually dropped for lack of funding. The district is considered the most racially diverse in the state. It’s also one of the poorest. Approximately 70% of the school’s students qualify for free lunch. The photo of Tolman reminded me that even in the 1980s almost all the windows had been replaced by glass bricks, allowing opaque light into classrooms, but leaving no possibility for gazing outside. The online picture of Tolman High School follows a familiar narrative of urban public education: Schools serving mostly poor, mostly students of color, places of violence, places of academic despair.

I know from my experience teaching at Tolman there and my subsequent years working with teachers in districts like Oakland and San Francisco that this is such a biased and incomplete picture of urban schools . What stands out from my experience at Tolman is the brilliance and hard work of students. I remember students from Puerto Rico, Cape Verde, and Cambodia in my 11th grade U.S. history class navigating the English they were still learning to debate whether the city should have a nativity scene in front of City Hall during Christmas, to discuss whether it was fair that only “natural born” citizens could become President of the United States, and to share with each other a “coming to America story” from their own lives or someone in their family. Those who doubt the intelligence of adolescents should have observed that class. This very first teaching experience convinced me about the truth behind a statement that has almost become cliché: All children can learn. Those who say that urban school teachers are lazy and academically mediocre should have met my cooperating teacher, a man with a PhD from Notre Dame who returned to teach at Tolman, the high school he graduated from, because he believed in public education. His dedication, thoughtfulness, and intelligence were inspiring. Sadly, stories of urban school failure focus on the actors — students and teachers — as the problem, rather than the larger political and economic contexts that result in the unequal distribution of resources for education, the segregation of children by race, and the reproduction and legitimization of inequality in our nation. My years of teaching children and working with teachers convince me that children and teachers are not the problem. Larger social inequities are. Meaningful school reform has to be part of larger efforts to eradicate poverty, end racism, and strengthen democracy.

My experience teaching and preparing others to work in urban schools shapes my elective course on urban school reform in the United States. While school reform suffers no shortage of market driven calls to tear schools down in order to rebuild them, I’ve come to understand that creating schools to support meaningful, rigorous, and joyful learning requires listening to a variety of perspectives, including those of teachers and students as well as researchers and policy makers. My experience also teaches me that schools do not stand apart from society but reflect and reproduce it. As part of the course, we will hold a joint class with students from a nearby San Francisco public high school. We will also interact with teachers and administrators in the middle of making city schools work for diverse students to hear voices that are not always reflected in monographs of school reform. We will work with Californians for Justice, an Oakland-based advocacy organization, to document the benefits of social emotional learning so they can make the case for strategies to support students of color, immigrant students, LGBTQ students, and students from low income families in urban schools. My goal is to spend as much time learning in and from real teachers, students, and social justice advocates as from the scholars who can provide us with new lenses to understand urban education.

Far from a place of despair, Tolman remains for me a place of hopefulness, not because it works as it is, but because it’s not impossible to imagine schools that do work for the students who go there. I still believe classrooms are places of joy and possibility, of transformation and growth. That’s why I so look forward to teaching my first class at USF this fall. I can’t wait to work with the students in Urban Affairs to understand why city schools are the way they are, to imagine them as they could be, and to begin working towards more just and equitable education for young people in the Bay Area.