Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Keeping culturally aware

Posted on February 23, 2016 in Community
By USM Free Press

By Thomas Fitzgerald

There have been decades of university news stories in the Portland and Gorham area dating  back before students ever had a place that they could even call USM home. Although clothing, hair, music and many trends have gone in and out of style, there is a common theme that has risen throughout the news archives that seems like it has been getting a great amount of attention, but very little solution. This theme is discrimination.

Whether it is an article that is reporting on a discriminatory act or an article that is trying to raise awareness, it is something that is going to be inevitably engraved in our society if the trends of history remain constant.

When the school that we now attend was formerly called The University of Maine Portland-Gorham, an article published in the Feb. 8, 1972 student paper titled The Observer had been released titled “DIsguised Racism.”

This article examined the fact that the Board of Trustees voted that all Native American students were to be allowed free tuition, room and board if they met the qualifications to attend college. This was a rather exciting time for a lot of students who felt that they would be able to pursue educational dreams further that ever before.

However, there were some citizens in the community who felt like this exciting movement was not exactly fair. A group of citizens who felt that this was an act of “discrimination,” did not stand for it, and it was an unfortunate reality of the present situation that the average Maine Indian was not getting the respect that they deserve.

If programs are put in place to help a specific group of people, is always going to be discrimination? There are scholarships put in place for people who have high grades and class, scholarships that help students in low income areas, scholarships that reward athletes. If there are specifications put in place for scholarships helping students, then isn’t every scholarship technically discrimination?

Fortunately for Maine, the Native American Waiver and Educational program is a prominent part of enrollment, and all qualifying students that are Native American can attend college in the University of Maine system regardless of their financial standing.

Despite a fortunate ending to the situation, there still leaves unanswered questions as to why people do not stand up and support others when is an opportunity to help.

This point leads to the long lasting debate regarding the respect and equality that refugees and asylum seekers may not have been receiving upon their entry into the United States. However, this debate should not be too far off from the disguised racism that came about during the struggle for Native American education.

A refugee is not a person who has entered our country by choice but is instead an individual who is forced to leave their country as a means to escape war, persecution or disaster. It seems to often the average citizen who is not fully aware of what is happening beyond the United States will jump to conclusions that they are here by choice, but do not consider the fact that they may also be very unhappy with the fact that they were transported to a foreign country that has different cultures, customs and most importantly language.

It seems as though empathy, humility and respect become compromised when a desperate situation arises and the people who show their true colors in these times are the unaccepting. What seems even more shocking is the lack of support that these individuals is being broadcasted by politicians and Governor Paul LePage is not afraid to be blunt about his opinion.

LePage has been adamant that Maine is not a place that is welcoming to people in need like asylum seekers,, and stated back November that he was opposed to President Obama’s plan to house 10,000 refugees. What stands out even greater about his stance on all of this, is that has no control over the regulation of immigration in Maine and is just expressing his opinions

Headlines were made by LePage as recently as last week, when he reiterated that it was not safe to let refugees into our state and used an educated guess when saying that they would bring a disease called the “ziki fly,” which was intended to be directed toward the zika virus that has been locally spreading.

“What happens is you get hepatitis C, tuberculosis, AIDS, HIV, the “ziki fly,”all these other foreign type of diseases that find a way to our land.” Was the official statement by LePage regarding this issue, and got such an opposed opinion from the members of the crowd that he was being booed and heckled.

Humanity is clearly getting lost in the fray when people in need come to Maine, and it is upsetting that the man leading our voice is spreading an uneducated, and unpopular message. As years have progressed, it does not seem as though discrimination has improved. It has only shifted gears to different groups of people who are desperately in need and it is sad that we can not stand together as Mainers to assure the words of our politicians are not being mistaken for our true feelings.