Teach-in informs campus about activism opportunities

Multiple members of the Geneseo campus community hosted a teach-in on Friday April 7, in which attendees engaged in a dialogue about activism strategies. Multiple panel discussions were held during the day, and afterward New York Civil Liberties Union Genesee Valley Organizer Iman Abid led a discussion about how to effectively activate for disenfranchised groups on campus. (Ellayna Fredericks/Staff Photographer)

Geneseo students and faculty gathered to hold a teach-in on Friday April 7. Organizers of the teach-in intended to start a dialogue about activism at Geneseo under the Trump administration. 

The first panel featured five professors, each describing a current event issue as it exists under the Trump administration. 

Associate professor of psychology James Allen began by discussing climate change in terms of the psychology of those who deny it and how people would go about changing that opinion. Assistant professor of philosophy and women’s and gender studies Amanda Roth similarly recommended a redefinition of reproductive rights so that it emphasizes the right to raise a child safely instead of exclusively concerning access to all reproductive options. Allen and Roth said they believe that through more personal discussions, activism can be effective in changing people’s opinions about the key issues they discussed. 

Assistant professor of history Megan Brankley Abbas directly discussed the actions that endanger American Muslims from both the Trump administration and from hate groups proliferating across the country. Associate professor of history Catherine Adams juxtaposed the Black Lives Matter movement to the actions to stop the lynchings of black Americans in the early 1900s; Adams discussed the recent actions performed by the Department of Justice, which would stop reforms of local police department. 

Both Brankley Abbas and Adams emphasized the apparently deliberate attempts to discredit American Muslims and Black Lives Matter activists by members of the Trump administration.

Distinguished professor of history Michael Oberg rounded out the panel by examining issues for Native Americans in the wake of the Dakota Access Pipeline. While he noted that the president had previously been oppositional to Native American rights, he expressed hope in the bipartisan support for some reforms. Following the panel, each of the professors broke up to lead small group discussions on their respective issues. 

Sociology and music double major senior Katherine Zaslavsky said she preferred the meetings of small groups to the larger panels at times. 

“It was nice to just sit down and talk about these issue in the small groups,” she said. “There was a lot less of the ‘I will speak and you lean in if you want to hear me,’ and so it’s great to be in a space where we’re all sitting down and just have a discussion on this. A lot of times there aren’t spaces like this in a classroom or activist organizations.”

Zaslavsky added that she believed that the panels were too academic for an activist event. 

“The panel was a pretty typical academic meet and greet,” she said.  “I’m not sure if you can change that format, but I think expanding the informal discussion could improve it. It gets a little draining being in an environment where you constantly have to actively show that you’re a participant as a listener and then you don’t get to talk one-or-one or have any of your questions answered.”        

The second panel focused on issues relating to LGBTQ+, education, economics, immigration and disability.

Associate professor of English Alice Rutkowski began the discussion with LGBTQ+ issues, addressing various anti-discrimination policies on the national stage. Rutkowski directly encouraged students to inform others of the importance of LGBTQ+ issues at Geneseo. 

Assistant professor of education Kelly Keegan spoke about the current climate of uncertainty surrounding education due to the many cuts in national funding for education under Secretary Betsy DeVos. Keegan discussed a renewed emphasis on charter school education. 

Associate professor of history Kathleen Mapes showed statistics detailing how economic inequality has steadily increased since the 1950s. Under Trump, Mapes contended that the inequality gap would grow faster than it has over the past 60 years because of how Trump has directed attacks both toward the poor and toward the rich members of society. 

Worker Justice Center of New York staff member Carly Fox detailed the current issues surrounding immigration, especially in Upstate New York. She addressed initiatives in New York State government that allow migrant workers to obtain drivers licenses and the role that Trump’s rhetoric and policies regarding immigration have for the whole country. 

Fox additionally made special recognition of the members of the Geneseo community who protested Border Patrol’s detaining of undocumented residents in Geneseo on March 23. She teared up describing how people in Immigrant Detention Centers reacted to protests from Geneseo students. 

“It’s standing for so much hope for [undocumented] people who are in dairy parlors right now working, for people who are detained in Batavia, and it’s being led by Geneseo students,” she said. “I’m bragging about you all to SUNY Brockport and University of Rochester students.” 

Associate professor of education Linda Ware focused on disability and stressed what she felt was a failure of schools to treat disabled students as well as how they treat other students. 

Following another round of discussion and a brief lunch, a third panel was held to discuss avenues for activism. Public relations director of Students Against Social Injustice junior Taylor Keith, professor of history Emilye Crosby and New York Civil Liberties Union Genesee Valley Organizer Iman Abid served as panelists. The panelists recommended that students engage with faculty and other students to make local changes. 

Abid additionally led a discussion on how to approach activism on campus after the third panel. 

“The one thing I was trained to do was to never leave a meeting without an opinion on how someone feels about the topic,” she said. “Ask them why they feel a certain way. Go off and just question them.” 

The teach-in was largely organized by three students: English major senior Matthew Viglucci, geography major senior Tori Roberts and English major junior Hannah Embry. The idea of holding a teach-in came from a discussion two months ago with Crosby about how to increase student activism, according to Viglucci. 

Embry emphasized that the goal of the teach-in was to educate students about current issues, especially in the context of the 2016 presidential election. 

“Our intention with the teach-in was to create an environment where we could learn about different issues that have been affected by the recent election of Trump,” she said. “We can then use what we’ve learned in the activist workshop to propel us to create concrete action for change.”

Assistant news editor Zainab Tahir contributed reporting to this article. Assistant news editor Mike Powers contributed to the writing of this article along with staff writer Tyler Waldriff.