All posts by Sarah Muzzillo

Street Harrassment

Eyes straight ahead. Keys firmly clutched in hand, pepper spray ready. Headphones in, music on mute. Keep walking. Stay brisk—don’t slow down.

The sun is setting. Franklin Street is suddenly bathed in a warm, glowing light. You allow yourself to briefly relax, a moment to take in the picturesque scene before you. A male pedestrian asks you a question.

Ignore. Continue walking. A group of women across the street catch your eye. Cross the road. Walk behind them.

Finally, you arrive at your destination—you can breathe, a sigh of momentary relief before you soon must leave again.

This script is repeated over and over and over again, no matter the time or place.

Go out in groups.

Carry a pocketknife.

Always stay alert, never let your guard down.

Check, check, check.

If someone attacks you, it’s because you missed something. A slip-up. You’re targeted with questions.

Why’d you wear that?

Can’t you take a compliment?

Why were you out so late?

When arriving at UNC-Chapel Hill, incoming students are told that Chapel Hill is the Southern Part of Heaven—a safe, fun, inclusive haven where you can freely learn and grow. For many students, though, this promise rings hollow.

This insidious, constantly unsafe feeling in public spaces is characterized by street harassment—sexual harassment in public spaces, including catcalling, stalking, touching without consent, etc.

Street harassment is incredibly prevalent. In a study conducted by Hollaback!, an anti-street harassment organization, and Cornell University, researchers found that 29 percent of those who shared their experiences of street harassment on Hollaback!’s website were physically touched in a public space without their consent, while 57 percent were subject to verbal harassment.

On college campuses, harassment has other implications, too. The threat of street harassment often will dissuade women from studying in a library late due to fear of walking home late at night, negatively impacting academics. According to Hollaback!, 67 percent of students experienced harassment on campus, 61 percent witnessed another student being harassed on college campus, and only 18 percent of students had not experienced or witnessed harassment on campus. Hollaback! Also found that a staggering 46 percent of students said harassment caused disappointment with college experience.

I can recall multiple times in which I simply decided to remain in my dorm to complete assignments during the evening, even though I focus significantly better in a quiet, studious library—a choice male students, specifically cis, white, heterosexual men, rarely have to consider.

Women and other marginalized folks should be able to freely exist and move around in the world without fear of potential bodily, mental, and emotional harm.

Existence is Resistance

This article was originally written following the presidential election of 2016. It has been re-published here due to its present relevance. 

 

The Results

Three women sit cross-legged on the floor of a 6×10 dorm room in Ehringhaus Residence Hall on UNC-Chapel Hill’s south campus. They eagerly watch a laptop screen, eyes glued to the interactive electoral map on CNN. As the numbers begin to roll in, their excitement quickly turns to dread. It slowly becomes clear the outcome they envisioned for Nov. 8, 2016 will not be realized.

Once the final results are called, time stops.

Donald J. Trump will be the 45th president of the United States of America. Reality sinks in.

The friends embrace one another as shocked sobs roll through their bodies. Shouts of victory reverberate from the adjacent room, confirming their fears.

How fitting, sophomore Laura Duque thought. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump supporters literally divided by a concrete wall.

“In the one room, there was us, the Latinas, and in the next room there were Trump supporters,” she said. “Us crying in the one room, and the Trump supporters cheering in the next room.”

Duque, her sister and her friend sat together for hours. Slowly watching as the votes came in, state by state.

“It felt like when you’re at the top of a rollercoaster just counting the seconds before the big drop,” first-year Caroline Duque, Duque’s sister, said.

Duque, a *Latinx activist at UNC-CH as co-chair of Students United for Immigration Equality (SUIE), a Campus Y committee, isn’t alone.

Since President-Elect Donald Trump won, defeating former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College by 74 votes, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, many Americans have taken to social media, the streets and college campuses to express shock, outrage and terror over the president-elect’s victory.

Walking Out

The next day, Duque didn’t hesitate. As an activist, she said she felt compelled to do something. When the Campus Y, UNC-CH’s center for social justice, organized a campus wide walkout that Wednesday to provide students with a space to tell their stories and express their emotions following the election, Duque chose to participate.

“Safe space.”

These two words echo across the quad at 2:00 p.m. A promise for those who speak. A microphone stand sits in front of South Building.

If today were an ordinary Wednesday, most of this crowd would be in class. But, for many students, today is far from ordinary.

“After the election, I expected the whole world to stop,” Duque said.

But, despite feelings of anxiety and fear, she kept going and immediately took action.

Hundreds of students, faculty and community members of all races, ethnicities and gender identities, fill the space. Some hug one another, link arms. Others cry and wipe away tears.

A long line of a diverse group of students snakes around South Building to the front of the Campus Y.

“Regan and I woke up on Nov. 9 and felt like the campus should have a chance to voice their upset, fears and worries—a kind of catharsis,” Lauren Eaves, co-president for the Campus Y, said.

Duque stands in line, readying herself to talk in front of the vast crowd before her. Her body shakes as she meticulously recites lines in her mind. She hates public speaking.

“In that moment, I didn’t even look at the crowd,” she said. “Everything went blank, and I just wanted everyone to hear me. When else was I going to have this opportunity?”

After listening to two students share their stories, she slowly, hesitantly approaches the microphone. Tears stream down her face as her friend rubs her back. She speaks of her father.

“All he could say last night was ‘te amo’,” she says through broken sobs.

“I love you” in Spanish.

“I was terrified and really emotional,” she said. “But there was something within me that said you have to go out there. The little activist in me was like ‘you have to go’.”

“When Laura spoke, I felt so proud of her for sharing her personal story with so many people,” Campus Y co-president Regan Buchanan said. “And I felt deeply angered and saddened that she had to experience so much fear because of our nation’s failures.”

Afraid

Duque is one of countless Latinx students at UNC-CH who fear that a Trump administration will inflict violence on their communities. Trump has advocated for a wall between the U.S.’s and Mexico’s border, as well as mass deportation of immigrants and elimination of sanctuary cities and campuses that aim to protect undocumented folks from being deported.

“It’s no longer just about political affiliations,” Duque said. “This is a person who tolerates and advocates for hate.”

A few weeks ago, Duque visited her home in Durham, North Carolina. After dinner one night, she went outside. Looking ahead, she immediately froze.

“I’m just there, taking out the trash, and I see them,” she said.

Two white neighbors, a woman and a man wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, casually jog by, laughing.

“That is scary,” she said. “I automatically felt unsafe.”

She wonders how Trump will “Make America Great Again.” More like, “Make America Hate Again.”

Growing Up

Duque’s family immigrated to the United States from Cali, Colombia when she was 10-years-old. She’s lived from coast to coast—in Georgia, California and, now, North Carolina.

“I cried a lot the week before we left Cali because I knew everything would change,” Duque said. “I’d never been outside the country. It was a huge culture shock.”

Elementary school is hard enough without having to learn through a language barrier and taunting from students for being different.

“To this day, even the smell of elementary school floors makes me cringe,” Duque said. “I automatically think about the kids who called me weird or dumb for not knowing how to speak English.”

Her story is one of relative privilege—a narrative not often told when pundits and politicians discuss this prevalent political issue. Her parents moved her and her younger sisters to the U.S. to pursue master’s degrees about a decade ago.

Duque’s family came from an upper middle class background, allowing them to have resources needed to apply get an appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia, a costly process. Then, an appointment is selected and one has to let the embassy know why they wish to immigrate. Thankfully, her parents were both educated, wanted to pursue higher education and therefore were able to obtain their visas.

“I didn’t really understand my own privilege and what that meant,” Duque said. “The fact that I was able to come here under the circumstances that I did is quite a privilege because not a lot of people get to do that.”

This perspective has challenged her to recognize how others’ walks of life differ from her own.

“It’s not fair that just because my parents came from privileged background, they had the chance to come here safely, but other people don’t,” Duque said.

An Intricate System

Immigration is complex, she says. No single story can encompass 11.4 million currently undocumented immigrants living in a country.

“Growing up here, I’ve met a lot of people whose families had come here without documents because they were fleeing violence or drug cartels,” Duque said. “There were no job opportunities for them—the poverty level was really high in their countries. I knew that I had to talk about this because not a lot of people know about the immigration system and how it works.”

Although Duque has a green card and is a permanent resident, an obtained status that involved a long, arduous process, which spanned a total of three years, she is not yet a full citizen. In five years, she will be eligible to take the United States citizenship test. And that comes with a cost.

“Because I’m not a citizen, I can’t vote,” Duque says. “I had no influence or control over this election that will have a complete influence over my, my family’s and my friends’ lives.”

According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, 13.3 million permanent residents live in the U.S. Duque is one of these Americans.

Being a permanent resident allows Duque and her family to live, attend school and work in the United States without immediate repercussions. However, this status does not guarantee complete safety.

“If you commit certain crimes or security violations, or even fail to advise USCIS of your changes of address, you can be placed in removal proceedings and deported from the United States,” according to AllLaw.com.

A lack of security and feelings of discrimination motivated Duque to become involved with organizing efforts on campus her first year.

“I didn’t choose activism, it just kind of happened,” Duque said. “I’ve always felt discriminated against. Whenever my parents and I would go out, because they speak broken English, I’d feel embarrassed because I would have to translate for them and people would always look at us like we weren’t normal. They were treated like crap.”

“I felt like the xenophobia was in the air,” she said. “I had to do something about this.”

Moving Forward

Following Trump’s win, activists like Duque are forced to grapple with many questions. How do groups create change under this administration? With a hostile political climate and hate crimes against people of color on the rise, what happens next?

These worries are at the forefront of Duque’s mind. As an immigrant and activist Latina woman, though, Duque remains determined and steadfast to protect her community.

After the election, SUIE immediately went into planning mode.

“First, we’re going to recognize that Trump is not our president and will never be our president,” Duque said.

“The side that won basically told us that we are less than human, and we’re not going to stand for it,” Duque said. “We’re definitely going to take a defensive approach.”

“She always wants to do more and more with SUIE, and I admire that about her,” Diana Marquez, Duque’s SUIE co-chair, said.

The day after Trump’s inauguration, the organization is planning an event in the Pit called “Pie Trump.”

Students will be encouraged to throw a pie at a cutout of Trump’s face. During the event, SUIE will collect donations for a scholarship fund for undocumented students.

“I also want to display immigrants’ stories all over campus,” Duque said. “We have an idea to put shoes all over the Pit to tell immigrant stories.”

“I want people to understand what it’s like to live in an immigrant’s shoes,” Marquez said.

SUIE will also hold a panel of immigration lawyers for the community and students to voice concerns and ask questions.

The plan is to provide folks with resources and preparation just in case for the worst, Duque said.

“This is a really scary time for a lot of immigrants in this country,” Duque said.

Hate and Hope

The vast building looms in front of her. Its history, tradition and power causes her to catch her breath.

The White House.

Duque was there for a World AIDS Day event as part of her campus organizing work with Advocates for Youth, a sexual health nonprofit.

After walking through airport-like security, her two friends are given green passes with silver chains to wear around their necks, displaying their names and photos. Duque’s pass is pink. Her stomach drops.

“Oh wow,” she thought. “Everyone know my status now. Everyone knows that I’m not a citizen.”

A secret service officer peppers her with questions and commands.

“Okay,” he said. “You can all go in except for you.”

He points at Duque.

“You need to be personally escorted into the White House,” he tells her.

Her friends try to defend her. “Why can’t she go with us?” they ask.

“This is between her and the White House,” he said.

His cold demeanor washes over Duque.

“He stared at us like we were nothing,” she said. “It was like ‘what are you doing here?’”

Trump’s America, Duque thought.

Eventually, Duque is able to call a point of contact at Advocates for Youth. It was worth the wait. She heard countless stories from activists that inspired her.

“We’ve done a lot during this administration,” she said. “If we were able to do that, that shows me that even though there’s still a lot of work to do, there’s a lot of people who are willing to do it. That gives me hope.”

Hope may seem futile during this time. But Duque says she’ll continue to fight in this movement and embrace her identities.

“Even existence is resistance,” she said.

 
*Latinx is commonly used in this community in order to represent gender inclusivity.

I Stand With Planned Parenthood

Since its inception over 100 years ago, Planned Parenthood has been a consistent and accessible source of vital healthcare for millions of people, including women, men, trans people, and gender non-conforming folks. On October 16th, 1916, the nationwide healthcare group opened its doors. Ever since then, anti-abortion activists and the Grand Old Party have tried to seal them shut.

In 2015, Republicans nearly shut down the federal government by threatening to defund Planned Parenthood over doctored videos alleging illegal activities, which were ultimately ruled false.

Unsurprisingly, the GOP used similar tactics when they recently unleashed a vicious attack on Planned Parenthood by describing future plans to take away funds allocated for the group. On Thursday January 5th, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said defunding the extremely popular group, which Americans support funding for 2 to 1, will be included within the GOP’s attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

According to the organization, which has offices in all 50 states, an estimated 2.5 million individuals rely on Planned Parenthood for fundamental healthcare and services, including: family planning, birth control, abortion, pre- and post-natal care, STD testing, and cancer screenings, to name some.

Additionally, 1 in 5 women will rely on Planned Parenthood for reproductive healthcare throughout their lifetimes. Clearly, these statistics are staggering and illustrate the organization’s vital role in American society.

Cutting off women’s access to healthcare, specifically access to reproductive services, is oppressive. When women are stripped of their bodily autonomy, those in power effectively limit or erase women’s ability to determine their life’s path.

Coupled with the gutting of the ACA, as well as threats to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding and Medicaid reimbursements, millions of Americans will soon be left without healthcare if Republicans continue these damaging attacks, which all signs strongly point to.

Despite their rhetoric of “fixing a broken system,” it is clear that Trump, Ryan, and the rest of the GOP are simply interested in and committed to ripping healthcare away from people who need it most.

On Saturday, millions of protestors marched for women’s rights, many in support of reproductive justice. I, like countless other Americans, am tired of conservative politicians and activist vilifying this incredible, compassionate organization.

Throughout our lives, we’re constantly taught that America is The Land of the Free. A place supposedly built on values of equality, justice, and liberty. But until all people are able to obtain quality, affordable, and easily accessible healthcare, none of us will be free.

Internships: A Classist Industrial Complex

As fall semester comes to a close, that dreaded time of year again is right around the corner. On top of stress over final exams, projects, and registering for spring classes, internship application deadlines are rapidly approaching. I already have a growing sticky note on my desktop outlining due dates for various applications.

Although some organizations or companies will provide a stipend or hourly wage, many internships are still unpaid.

You may find your dream job, you may be fully qualified, but you can’t afford to accept an internship that doesn’t provide monetary compensation. Unpaid internships, therefore, are undeniably classist and consequently create a cycle of opportunity, perpetuating privilege and oppression.

A student who can comfortably live and intern in New York City, Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles, California for a summer or semester at a prominent, well-respected company without compensation places them on a clear and more inevitable trajectory for success. In contrast, students who cannot realistically complete unpaid internships, will likely work over the summer at a local store or restaurant, automatically placing them at an unfair disadvantage.

Most likely, these students already experience class privilege, have connections, and are part of helpful professional networks. With these positions on these students’ resumes, they have an unearned advantage over their less privileged counterparts.

Two graduates who apply for the same position may have attended the same university, have the same GPA, or participated in an equal number of extracurricular activities. One, though, interned for a major company for free, while the other lived at home and worked. Who do you think is likely hired?

I’m incredibly grateful to have interned with a voting rights nonprofit centered on social justice that paid full-time summer interns. Without a paycheck, I wouldn’t have been able to accept a position that has directly shaped and strengthened my abilities and confidence. They invested in me and my future. It’s time for all organizations to follow suit.

Voting is Your Voice: Make it Heard

Election 2016 is everywhere. You can’t escape it. Candidates’ faces plastered on television screens, the latest heinous comments Donald Trump has made attacking women, people of color, or people with disabilities take over your newsfeed.

I can’t count on both hands how many times, in the past few months, I’ve walked to class and been bombarded.

“Hi! Are you registered to vote? Do you know your polling place? Here, take some resource flyers.”

By the twentieth time, it can get redundant and annoying. However, considering voting rights have been aggressively attacked within our state for years, it’s encouraging to see this vital work being done.

In 2013, North Carolina’s legislature passed what activists and politicians have termed “The Monster Voting Law.” This legislation significantly rolled back voting rights by requiring photo ID to cast a ballot and cutting early voting days and hours. The republican-led legislature also eliminated out-of-precinct voting, preregistration for teenagers under 18-years-old, and same-day registration.

This litany of voter suppression tactics disproportionately impacted marginalized populations that tend to vote democrat, including the elderly, working class folks, college students and people of color.

By requiring strict photo ID to cast a ballot, a significant portion of the population was unable to exercise their political voice. Under the law, students were unable to present student ID. Many elderly and working class folks do not possess driver’s licenses required to vote. It is clear that this law was a direct political attack on oppressed groups and democratic voters, as uncovered by The Daily Show three years ago (link).

Thankfully, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the oppressive law this past July. But voter suppression has not yet reached a necessary end.

Local boards of elections are still finding ways to silence voices by cutting early voting, limiting weekend hours and choosing inconvenient polling sites. Trump is urging his supporters to monitor polling sites for nonexistent voter fraud, effectively encouraging voter intimidation and harassment.

From reproductive rights to economic inequality to college tuition rates, there is so much at stake in 2016. It is vital that, despite obstacles and opposition, we all make our voices heard.