In August, President Joe Biden announced that his administration would be implementing a one-time student loan debt relief program for Americans with student loan debt. Since the announcement, the administration has posted guidance on the Department of Education’s website that explains the plan in detail and attempts to answer some FAQs. The website outlining the plan states that $10,000 worth of debt would be forgiven for Americans making less than $125,000 a year who have outstanding federal student loans. For those who received Pell Grants to pay for college, up to $20,000 worth of student loan debt would be forgiven. The website states that “the Administration will launch a simple application in October” that must be completed by the end of the year to determine whether borrowers qualify for debt forgiveness. That application is now available on the Federal Student Aid website.
On Friday, September 30th, the Michigan State University Board of Trustees released an audit conducted earlier this month on the Title IX certification process. This audit was conducted after concerns arose regarding failure of compliance with the state-mandated Title IX certification process last year. Michigan State University President, Samuel Stanley, is at the forefront of the investigations.
This year, September 18th marked the start of Banned Books Week, which ran through September 24th with the purpose of bringing awareness to books that have been banned in libraries and classrooms across the United States. With the recent rise of politicization of education in America, the movement to ban books has skyrocketed. This year is already seeing record numbers of restrictions on books being taught in schools, with the American Library Association citing close to 700 book challenges that have already been brought. The rise of book censorship is being fueled by organizations with a focus on censoring books they deem should be banned from schools, who are compiling lists of hundreds of books with themes they disagree with.
Where Title IX offices exist, controversy follows. While certain students attending four year higher education institutions (HEIs) may feel empowered or supported by their Title IX offices, in my experience, many more feel mistrust, pain, and neglect. In my time as a student at three different HEIs, I was constantly surrounded by women and queer people in pain. Sometimes, this pain came in the form of a friend stating they did not want to engage with the Title IX office because they wholeheartedly believed nothing substantive would come of reporting. Other times, the pain came in the form of large groups of students making it known that they felt betrayed by their school’s Title IX office, unsupported and ill-equipped to advocate for themselves and their friends.
A recent article in the Loyola Phoenix, pointedly entitled, They Just Didn’t Make It Very Easy For Us’: Three Loyola Students Voice Frustrations with Loyola’s Sexual Assault Investigation Process, named only some of the many critiques students have of Title IX offices. The voices of these students are valid. Change can, should, and must be made. Any response which does not acknowledge these two realities ignores the pain so many young people are clearly feeling. Refusal to diligently, and in good faith, work on improving protections for survivors throughout HEI campuses is a failure, in every sense of the term.
Policing is a settler colonial creation to control native populations and is exported aboard to teach other empires how to do the same. In 2007, the FBI found that cops averaged roughly four hundred “justifiable homicides” every year, whereas nearly eighty cops were murdered in the line of duty. These disparities have only further developed, where since 2014, cops averaged nearly one thousand homicides each year, and the number of cops killed in the line of duty remained around forty-eight. Policing and prison systems are premised on punishment, rather than transformative healing, health, and prevention. Thus, as stated in Decriminalization Is Not Enough, Abolition Is a Must, resources and funding which are currently given to our present system of policing and prisons should be reallocated to tools that actually serve the community, rather than on incarceration.
Justice is a means through which people can discuss, decide, and create environments that encourage them thrive and it involves the people who are most impacted by those conditions. In that vein, abolition will look different in each community. The goal of abolition should be prioritizing the needs of each community by allowing the community control and ultimate decision-making ability. Abolition allows each community to communicate, prioritize, and enact methods and means that will make that community the best environment for its members. As Dereka Purnell wrote in Becoming Abolitionists, “activists or abolition-curious people will often ask me, ‘What does abolition look like to you?’ My answers change all the time during conversation, especially since I believe that the dreaming and practicing should happen together. This is what I’m thinking about today as I’m writing the conclusion to this book. Every neighborhood would have five quality features: a neighborhood council; free twenty-four-hour childcare; art, conflict, and mediation centers; a free health clinic; and a green team.” Upon community needs, discussion, and approval, funds currently spent on police and prison systems should be reallocated to education, housing, health care, and public spaces.
Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would bar Florida educators from speaking to students about LBGTQ+ topics that are not considered “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” has passed in Florida’s House and is likely to pass in the Senate as it now moves to the Republican-controlled Senate floor for a vote. The horrific piece of legislation, formally known as HB 1557, has raised questions as to whether the bill, if passed, would violate the First Amendment rights of teachers or students in public primary schools across the sunshine state.
It’s hard and expensive to find and retain good employees. With this in mind, it’s not a surprise that companies are willing to try all sorts of things to make sure their employees stick around. For example, many companies have attempted to establish corporate mentorship programs where newer employees are paired up with veterans who can show them the way. But is this the right approach? Mentoring programs typically rely on single mentor-mentee matches and formal hierarchical pairings. Even if you can implement the best mentoring program, it is unlikely to achieve its intended result when the surrounding workplace is competitive and individualistic. For mentorship programs to have a real effect on the workplace, it seems that we all must take a step back and realize that real mentorship starts with company culture, not formal programs.
With the Biden administrations new proposed Title IX regulations set to be published in April of this year, attorneys and advocates alike have been left to speculate as to what changes the Department of Education (ED) will propose. Among this speculation, is a narrower question: will ED, in their proposed Title IX regulations, finally state directly that universities can be held liable for deliberate indifference to known sexual harassment perpetrated by a non-student guest? At this point, any answer to this threshold inquiry would be speculative, but there are a few indicators that suggest the answer may be yes.
In the United States, since the 1980s, the federal prison population has increased by roughly 790%. Specifically, presently within Illinois, there are approximately 76,000 citizens who are incarcerated. In 2014, Illinois appropriated and spent nearly $1.3 billion on prison budgets. Where even though cannabis is now legal, in Illinois, roughly 90 inmates are still incarcerated for offenses relating to the use, manufacturing, and selling of cannabis. According to the Last Prisoner Project, inmates remain incarcerated even though House Bill 1438 establishes that persons who have been convicted on an offense are granted a pardon because the Bill provides no resentencing or commutation procedures, and the process to have sentences pardoned is slow.
In examining the injustices of carceral punishment, statistics like these show that these injustices are not an anomaly, but rather the norm. Because prisons are premised on punishment, rather than transformative healing, health, and prevention, prisons are a human rights issue, rather than a criminal justice issue. Prisons are premised on punishment, rather than transformative healing and health, and prevention. As a result, resources and funding which are currently given to our present system of policing and prisons should be reallocated to tools that actually serve the community, rather than on incarceration.
On Friday February 4, 2022, a judge in Sangamon County, Illinois issued a ruling that prohibited mask mandates for school districts across the state. The ruling followed a lawsuit filed by parents from Peoria-area schools against 140 school districts, the governor, the Illinois State Board of Education superintendent, and the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. The lawsuit challenged mask mandates and other COVID-19 procedures implemented by Governor J.B Pritzker as COVID-19 grew rampant. The ruling exposes the difficulties in implementing and complying with COVID-19 safety measures as schools return back to in-person learning.