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Elite women’s college rejects transgender student, prompts outcry

Elite women’s college rejects transgender student, prompts outcry

Thu, Mar 28 2013

By Zach Howard

NORTHAMPTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) - A transgender high school student has had her application to a prestigious all-women’s college denied because she is tagged as legally male on government documents, prompting a vocal online and social media campaign on her behalf.

Calliope Wong, 17, a Connecticut senior who was born a male but has identified as female since adolescence, says Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, twice opted not to read her application and returned it in the mail.

Almost all of Wong’s paperwork to Smith, including transcripts and references, identifies her as female. But the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, form from the U.S. Department of Education marks her as male, she told Reuters on Thursday.

Smith’s admissions office told her the FAFSA designation makes her ineligible, based on Smith’s policy that applications and supporting papers consistently reflect that the student is a woman.

Laurie Fenlason, Smith’s vice president for public affairs, said the school does not comment on the status or admissibility of individual applicants. But she added, “Every application to Smith is treated on a case-by-case basis, and application materials must reflect female identity.”

Smith also has legal concerns over changing its admissions policies, Fenlason said. Schools such as Smith are concerned they could lose federal funding under Title IX, a law that bans sexual discrimination in education but exempts single-sex institutions.

"Title IX is an important factor in our consideration but not the only one," she said. "Smith is focusing on the broader policy challenge of how to be inclusive and supportive of transgender students while being faithful to the mission of a women’s college."

Wong’s plight has garnered attention since she started to chronicle her experience with Smith on a Tumblr blog last year.

The case at Smith, which has admitted women only since opening in 1875, has triggered heated criticism among the school’s often-progressive students and alumni.

Students and graduates have taken to social media sites, including the Facebook groups “Trans women belong at Smith College” and “Smith Q&A,” to show support.

An online photo campaign depicts scores of people holding signs calling on Smith to allow transgender and transsexual females.

In Massachusetts and Wong’s home state of Connecticut, a transgender person would need to have sex-reassignment surgery to change the legal sex on a birth certificate and thus amend a FAFSA form.

Wong has not undergone the costly reassignment procedure.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Todd Eastham)

Testimony: How a Gay Homeless Teen Became His High School's Valedictorian

Testimony: How a Gay Homeless Teen Became His High School’s Valedictorian


Testimony by MARQUISE BROWN, Chicago, IL

Going to college has always been a dream of mine—but it almost became a dream deferred. As a 16-year-old sophomore I came out as gay to my aunt, who was my guardian, and she kicked me out of the house. I didn’t get to take my belongings, and I wasn’t…

Canada student protests erupt into political crisis with mass arrests


Canada student protests erupt into political crisis with mass arrests

More than 500 people were arrested in Montreal on Wednesday night as protestors defied controversial new law Bill 78

Protests that began in opposition to tuition fees in Canada have exploded into a political crisis with the mass arrest of hundreds of demonstrators amid a backlash against draconian emergency laws.

More than 500 people were arrested in a demonstration in Montreal on Wednesday night as protesters defied a controversial new law – Bill 78 – that places restrictions on the right to demonstrate. In Quebec City, police arrested 176 people under the provisions of the new law.

Demonstrators have been gathering in Montreal for just over 100 days to oppose tuition increases by the Quebec provincial government. On Tuesday, about 100 people were arrested after organisers say 300,000 people took the streets.

But what began as a protest against university fee increases has expanded to a wider movement to oppose Bill 78, which was rushed through by legislators in Quebec in response to the demonstrations. The bill imposes severe restrictions on protests, making it illegal for protesters to gather without having given police eight hours’ notice and securing a permit.

On Wednesday night, police in Montreal used kettling techniques – officers surrounding groups of protesters and not allowing them in or out of the resulting circle – before conducting a mass arrest.

Police immediately declared Wednesday’s protest illegal, but allowed it to continue for about four hours before surrounding protesters and making arrests.

Martine Desjardins, who represents more than 125,000 students in her role as president of the federation of university students in Quebec, said protesters had been “peaceful” on Wednesday’s march.

“It makes a lot of people angry,” she said. “We fear that tonight, because there will be more demonstrations going on, people will become a bit more violent, because as you saw yesterday, when you are peaceful, you get arrested.”

Police arrested 518 people at the demonstration, the largest number detained in a single night so far. Montreal police constable Daniel Fortier, who told reporters rocks were thrown at police, said most of those arrested would face municipal bylaw infractions for being at an illegal assembly.

“I was so so scared,” said Magdalena, one of those arrested, who asked that her last name not be given. She told the Guardian that she had been taking part in the protests since February, and that Wednesday night’s action had actually seemed particularly peaceful.

“This was one of the most jovial I’ve taken part in,” she said. “We were commenting how in good spirits we were, how everyone seemed in such great energy. There were families, children, women with strollers, which you don’t necessarily see at the night protests as much,” she said.

Protesters were allowed to walk freely and briskly through Montreal, she added, but that changed when they came to certain intersection, the pace of the march slowing dramatically. “We didn’t think anything of it,” Magdalena said. “All of a sudden you just smelled tear gas and could see smoke, and people were running.”

Magdalena said people from the front of the march came running back past her and her friend, who had been strolling with their bicycles. “We turned around and there was already a line of cops behind us. We tried to go on the other side but then there was cops there too.

Police officers then tightened their ring around the “hundreds” of protesters, she said, not allowing anyone in or out. Magdalena said this situation continued for an hour, before everyone in the group was read their rights. After that, it was another “hour or two” before she was detained with plastic handcuffs and led to a city bus. She said they were then kept on the bus for “hours and hours” and were not allowed to go to the toilet. “I have some medical problems, and I wasn’t feeling well. I really needed some water and I needed some sugar, and they were really awful, they said they didn’t care,” she said.

Magdalena said she was eventually charged with being part of an unlawful assembly, and given a ticket for $634, which she said she planned to contest.

Protesters have vowed to continue the nightly protests that began on 14 February when Quebec’s liberal provincial government announced it would introduce tuition fee increases over a five-year period. The Quebec government’s department of education, leisure and sport says fees would go up by $325 (£200) per year for five years from autumn 2012, a total increase of $1,625.

The protests have resulted in a backlash against the Quebec prime minister, Jean Charest, who has refused to back down over the tuition fee increase, and the new law.

Students have been boycotting classes over the past three months, arguing that the increases would lead to an increased dropout rate and more debt.

In response to the protests, the provincial government rushed through Bill 78 on 18 May. As well as the restrictions on protests, it suspends the current academic term and provides for when and how classes are to resume.

Some student organisers said that the introduction of the bill, far from cowing the demonstrations, had actually brought more support for their cause.

‘This draconian law has revolted me’

Mathieu Murphy-Perron, who has been helping to organise demonstrations against tuition fees since last year, said: “I would say that I’ve seen more individuals come out and say: ‘You know what? I was neutral on the question of tuition fees, but to bring this draconian law has revolted me and I will take to the streets with you.

“There have been more and more people who recognise that Bill 78 is a breach of the right of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and they’re not going to have it.”

Some legal experts argue that the bill contravenes Canada’s charter of rights and freedoms. Montreal constitutional lawyer Julius Grey told the Vancouver Sun that Bill 78 was “flagrantly unconstitutional”. Opposition has come from the Quebec Bar Association and the Quebec human rights commission.

In an appearance on NBC’s Saturday Night Live in the US on Saturday night, the Grammy award-winning band Arcade Fire, who come from Montreal, wore symbolic red squares of cloth on their chests during their performance, in support of the protests.

Murphy-Perron said the red-hued, four sided shapes were visible “everywhere you go” in Montreal, adding that they show the “inter-generational aspect of this struggle”.

“You see red squares on buildings, on homes, on children, on teenagers, on students, on bluehairs, you see them everywhere.”

Desjardins said that she and other student representatives will meet with the government next week in Montreal or Quebec City to discuss tuition fees – the fourth meeting since strikes began.

In the meantime the daily marches would continue, she said, adding that protesters were also planning a protest in Ottawa, around 150 miles west of Montreal, on 29 May. Ottawa is in a different province from Montreal, and so safe from the clutches of Bill 78 – introduced only in Quebec.

“It’s something to ridicule the bill,” she said. “If we are restricted to have a demonstration in Montreal, or in the province, we are going to go outside the province, to Ontario, and have a big demonstration there.”


College Students (and a 4-Year-Old) Pepper Sprayed Protesting Tuition Hike

A Board of Trustees meeting at Santa Monica City College turned chaotic on Tuesday night whenprotesting students were pepper sprayed, indoors, by police trying to control the unruly crowd. Among those caught in fracas was a four-year-old girl who was at the protest with her family and was reportedly hit in the face by the pepper spray.

The college made national news recently when it announced a new tuition plan that would raise the prices of individual classes based on popularity, driving the cost of a class that would normally run around $46 a credit to as much as $180 per credit per semester. That new plan was on the scheduled agenda for last night’s public board meeting, prompting about 200 students to marched on the meeting to voice their protests. Unfortunately, the meeting was held in a room that only holds about 60 people, forcing most of the protesters into an overflow room. They later tried to force their way into the already crowded main room, creating a wild scene in the narrow and crowded hallway outside. That’s when campus police responded with the spray.

Roughly 30 people had to be treated for their injuries and two people had to be hospitalized. Twitter user Sarah Belknap was at the meeting and tweeted that she saw the young girl get sprayed in the face and that several people were nearly trampled in the chaos. Anyone who has ever been around pepper spray when it’s in use knows that it’s generally something you don’t want to spray indoors, as there is nowhere for the noxious fumes to disperse. Several students also complained of rough treatment by the baton-wielding police trying to clear out the crowd. Santa Monica city police were present at the meeting, but say it was campus police who were responsible for the crowd control measures.

The entire incident was reminiscent of the spraying of seated students at an Occupy Wall Street protest at UC-Davis last year. In fact, it’s almost hard to imagine a scene like this even happening were it not for the big rise in student activism and the revolution in organizing tactics that have come out of the Occupy movement. The students have clearly learned a lesson from the experiences of the last six months, but it doesn’t seem like the authorities have.

Valedictorian's deportation order spurs student prote


Students at North Miami Senior High are rallying for their classmate and valedictorian, Daniela Pelaez, 18, who was given an order for voluntary departure by a federal immigration judge. Students at North Miami High School are protesting a judge’s order for their valedictorian to leave the country.

Daniela Pelaez, 18, was given the order for voluntary departure by a federal immigration judge on Monday after her request for a green card was denied.

Pelaez came to the United States at age 4 with her family from Colombia on a tourist visa, which they overstayed. Her application for residency was denied in 2010.

“I consider myself an American, no matter what,” said Pelaez, who has applied to several Ivy League universities and hopes to become a heart surgeon. “I don’t agree with the judge.”

Her departure is not imminent, and her attorney is confident that an appeal will prevent her removal from the country. But her situation has mobilized her classmates, who plan to don red, white and blue Friday morning outside the school.

Her situation echoes the plight of Juan Gomez, a Killian High School grad who was picked up by immigration agents and threatened with deportation in 2007. Gomez and his brother Alex were spared deportation to Colombia.

But the climate has since changed. A new policy started under the Obama Administration last summer gives more leniency to immigration trial attorneys when it comes to undocumented immigrants like Gomez and Pelaez.

The policy lessened the focus on undocumented immigrants with no criminal record or who are caring for a sick child, who have been victims of domestic violence or crime, or who arrived in the country as children. Instead it turned the focus on the detention and deportation of dangerous foreign criminals and foreigners deemed threats to national security.

Those undocumented immigrants, like Pelaez, however, still must go through legal proceedings.

The ruling for voluntary departure only becomes final after 30 days, if an appeal is not filed, said her attorney, Jack Wallace. “If it’s filed within 30 days, she can’t be deported anywhere.” He plans to file the appeal next week, though he didn’t disclose on what grounds.

Wallace said he did not seek leniency under the new policy — called prosecutorial discretion — because he believes it’s best for those with no chance of winning approval to stay in the country. “Daniela has a good chance, if we win in court in Washington, to stay legally in the United States,” he said.

The deportation process can drag on for years, with all appeals from 59 immigration courts around the country going toWashington, D.C.

Pelaez’s family, who is originally from Barranquilla, Colombia, finds themselves on both sides of the immigration line. Her mother, Ana Gonzalez, returned to Colombia in 2006 to get successful treatment for colon cancer and now can’t return to the United States. Her older brother, Johan, is a U.S. citizen and serves in theU.S. Army, returning from a tour in Afghanistan last year. Her father, Antonio Pelaez, was able to receive residency through her brother. But Pelaez and her sister, Dayana, are struggling to find a way to stay in the country legally.

Meanwhile, Pelaez’s classmates and teachers have launched an aggressive online effort to gain support for her case — and keep her in the United States.

They have created a Facebook page and started an online petition, with more than 3,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon that they aim to send to theU.S. House of Representatives. They have made posters, banners and handed out fliers encouraging students to join Friday’s protest.

“We really are a family,” said Emily Sell, a 17-year-old senior. She and Pelaez attend the rigorous, college-prep International Baccalaureate program at North Miami Senior.

“I won’t allow that [deportation] to happen to her. For her to be deported means I’m losing one of my closest friends, our school is losing one of its brightest minds … That means a lot of loss that’s felt not only by me but all of her friends and family,” Emily said.

The news of the judge’s order was “devastating,” said Larry Jurrist, who leads the school’s IB program and teaches Pelaez in advanced Spanish. “It’s shocking to think that someone you’ve known for four years is suddenly going to be shipped off somewhere.”

When students started the online petition, Jurrist signed it and posted it on his Facebook page. “Not only did a tremendous amount of my friends and families sign it, they shared it, and it’s spread around tremendously, not just through me, but everyone else who’s doing the same thing,” Jurrist said.

For a decade, immigrants’ rights groups have pushed the DREAM Act, a federal proposal that would allow undocumented children to obtain permanent residency, either by enrolling in college or serving in the military. The bill has been criticized for promoting illegal immigration — and has never been signed into law.

According to estimates by the Urban Institute, 192,000 students in Florida would benefit from the DREAM Act. That means they came to the United States when they were younger than 16, have lived in the country for more than five years and have graduated from a Florida high school.

Last month in the Florida Legislature, efforts to let undocumented students pay in-state tuition were shot down. Under current state law, undocumented students must pay out-of-state tuition, which is nearly three times higher than the rates for Florida residents.

Juan Rodriguez, the youth coordinator with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said it’s important for students to reach out to their community.

“They need to create their network of trusted friends that they can share their story with or teachers they can trust,” he said. “We understand there’s a lot of fear. There’s more fear on the part of the parents … The majority of cases of students that have been stopped, it’s been people whose community has been aware of their story and do advocacy for them.”

Pelaez said she’s grateful for the rally at her school.

“I am annoyed and humiliated by all of this; I don’t feel I deserve this,” she said. “Criminals have more rights right now than I do — that’s humiliating. I’m a good person, I know I am.”

El Nuevo staff writer Alfonso Chardy contributed to this report.

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