What the White Student Unions don't get about the recent university protests.

In early November, University of Missouri students protested over what they said was the lack of university response to racially charged incidents on campus.

Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images News.


What started with one student on a hunger strike and the football team walking out of practice and refusing to play in a show of solidarity ended with the university president resigning and the chancellor stepping down.

The students at Mizzou shone a light on racism at American colleges, inspiring hashtags like #blackoncampus and #studentblackout, as well as similar protests across the country.

Unfortunately, whenever movements like these make progress, they also bring out the deniers.

These deniers assert that there's no problem with racial equality. They're often white, they often don't have much experience being aware of their own race until now (when they are being shown their privilege). And they refuse to consider how white people denying the experiences of people of color contributes to the problem.

This is where the so-called "White Student Union" groups came in, popping up on social media last weekend.

They're here to fight the good fight (/sarcasm) against what they perceive as reverse racism.

From the NYU White Student Union (quoted by the New York Daily News):

"When people say that Students of Whiteness don't face any unique challenges or obstacles we should think about this. White students are the only group to be labeled as 'problematic' simply for existing and to have University classes dedicated to attacking their identity. This is why we are reclaiming the word whiteness and not letting the campus thought police define our identities for us."

It is a devastating to feel "problematic" because of your race, and "simply for existing." Yet whoever is behind the White Student Union groups cannot see that this is how people of color feel on a daily basis, mainly at the hands of — you guessed it — white people, whether intentional or not.

And "university classes dedicated to attacking their identity" actually were established so that students could finally learn about American history from the perspective of this country's many racial minorities — from their own cultures — rather than the default "history" classes that teach a white, often male, perspective. Many of these specialized classes exist only because of protesters like the ones demanding racial equality at Mizzou.

Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images News.

The University of Illinois White Student Union went after a larger movement.

The group stated that its purpose is to organize against "the terrorism we have been facing from Black Lives Matter activists on campus," as quoted by MSNBC.

This is the same Black Lives Matter that spotlighted disproportionate police brutality against black people around the nation. The movement that got the two Democratic presidential frontrunners to talk about racial equality. And that have bolstered the Mizzou protests, as well as other college demonstrations.

We're supposed to believe that what they're doing is "terrorism"? Peaceful protesting is not terrorism. Five people being shot by white supremacists at a Black Lives Matter protest is terrorism.

Luckily, the universities are responding in solidarity with students of color.

The University of Illinois said in a statement that it asked Facebook to remove various iterations of the White Student Union pages because of the climate of fear and intolerance they were trying to create:

"The site called for monitoring African American students, and some students are telling us they now feel unsafe."

The NYU Director of Public Affairs took issue with the school's logo being on the page, as the New York Daily News quotes:

"There is no such organization as this at NYU, the Facebook page is using NYU's logo illegally and without permission, and we have contacted Facebook to demand the NYU logo be removed."

And as NYU posted on Facebook:

"An anonymous person or group has started a 'Union of White NYU Students' Facebook page; these kinds of pages have cropped up at a number of universities that have sought to have a real dialogue about race and inclusion. There is no such organization as this at NYU. We call on all parties to contribute thoughtfully and respectfully to the discourse on race and to reject efforts to derail or distort the conversation."

What university wants its name and image associated with people who refuse to acknowledge that racism exists? Especially after the Mizzou protests? Especially after the deaths of so many unarmed black people at the hands of cops?

Maybe this is a PR move, but it's still the right one.

There is good news, though: These groups are likely fake.

After Facebook took down the University of Illinois White Student Union page, some white supremacists put out a call to arms on social media, asking people to create these pages whether they were associated with a university or not.

You can read the complete timeline on Medium, which also points out how these pages that invoke the name of around 30 American universities have almost identical language in their statements of purpose.

It's not just university administrations and Facebook who are not letting these pages stand.

Ordinary Facebook users are calling out the people behind these pages. Either they comment calling the posts "divisive," or they don't Like the pages at all, with many of the still-existing groups garnering only a few hundred Likes.

These pages may have emboldened trolls who deny the existence of racism and white privilege, but they have also motivated others to set them straight. The fight continues. Progress will be made.

And that's something worth celebrating.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Photo by Vanessa Garcia from Pexels

A professor's message to students has gone viral.

If you know any teachers, you probably know how utterly exhausted they all are, from preschools all the way up through college. Pandemic schooling has been rough, to say the least, and teachers have borne the brunt of the impact it's had on students.

Most teachers I've known have bent over backwards to help students succeed during this time, taking kids' mental and emotional health into consideration and extending the flexibility and grace we all could use. But teachers have their own mental and emotional needs, too, and at some point, something's gotta give.

A college student posted screenshots of a professor's message on Twitter with the comment "someone PLEASE check on my professor." It's simply incredible.

The message reads:

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

man and two children on grass field

When I conceived my first born, I was elated. I took four at-home tests to confirm the news, peeing on my hand four times — and on four different sticks. I rushed to the city to tell my husband, with a congratulatory card and a few goodies in a yellow gift bag. There was a pacifier, a bottle, and an adorable Big Bird brush and comb set. And I called my doctor within hours. I scheduled an ultrasound the following week. But when I told everyone else the news, they wanted to know about my unborn baby's sex. Did I want a boy, they asked, or a girl?

I said I didn't care because I didn't. I wanted a child, to be sure. A happy, healthy baby who could (and presumably would) grow to become a happy, healthy kid. But everyone was focused on colors. On labels. Would I be a dance mom or a soccer mom? Would my shower be decorated with pink balloons or blue? And while I learned at my 20-week checkup that I was having a daughter — that I would be having a baby girl — I didn't identify as a "girl mom." My daughter is 8 and I still don't. Because sex doesn't define my daughter. It doesn't dictate her interests or mine, and it doesn't affect how I parent. I treat my son and daughter (more or less) the same. Because I'm not a boy mom or a girl mom, I'm just Mom, and that's an important distinction.


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Mom gets surprise call from daughter.

A FaceTime from her daughter is the best surprise this mom could ask for. Why? Because unbeknown to her, the daughter arrived back home from college in secret. And she shared this touching impromptu reunion with TikTok for everyone to enjoy.

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