Ethnic studies protest organizers tell students the media are the enemy

On Tuesday, a student attempting to talk to KGUN9 reporter Valerie Cavazos is jerked from behind (shot #1 of 2)

Ethnic studies protest organizers tell students the media are the enemy

CREATED Jan 25, 2012 - UPDATED: Jan 25, 2012

Editor's note:  after this story was posted, I received a thoughtful reply from Dr. Julio Cammarota, a University of Arizona associate professor who is an ethnic studies advocate and scholar.  See his comments toward the bottom of this updated story.

Notes by:  Forrest Carr, KGUN9 News Director

Again this week, the bitter battle over TUSD's now-canceled Mexican-American studies program continued to dominate KGUN9 viewer discussion.  And once again, one key component that should be present as part of any issue addressed in an open and democratic society was hard to find:  dialogue.  Not only are the two sides not talking to each other, the atmosphere has turned hostile, personal, and paranoid, with militaristic overtones.

Two weeks ago -- for one brief, shining moment -- it appeared the frost might be about to lift.  During the student march to TUSD headquarters, KGUN9 Reporter Valerie Cavazos had an excellent coversation with one student about the goals for the march, what the student hoped would be accomplished, and objectives for the future.  Once the kids got to TUSD headquarters, a key program administrator came out to address them.  A brief dialogue did ensue - only to end when protesters in the rear of the crowd decided to drown out the exchange with loud chants, to the obvious annoyance of some of the other students.

This past Monday was different from the start.  For that day's walkout, the word was out:  chanting is good, dialogue is not.  During the march Valerie tried several times to engage students in the same way she had done before.  Student after student turned her down.  One student who did try to say something to Valerie got a rude surprise:  a classmate physically jerked him from behind, nearly pulling him off his feet, then shoved him aside and placed his own body between the reporter and the student.  He couldn't have done a better job of blocking and tackling if he'd been playing for the Giants.

To emphasize the point, a handful of community activists dressed in Che Guevara style revolutionary garb were on hand to escort the marchers.  They were there, they explained, for the safety of the students.  Whatever alleged security threat the Brown Berets were worried about, clearly it wasn't the possibility that students attempting to talk to the media might be manhandled by fellow classmates.

On Tuesday the atmosphere went from chilly to overtly hostile.  Several dozen students again walked out of school for the purpose of attending an "ethnic studies class" organized by activists off school grounds, at the Casino Ballroom.  A sign pointedly proclaimed that the media were not welcome.

OK, fine.  TUSD doesn't allow the media in its classrooms, either, without a great deal of advance preparation and paperwork, and for perfectly good reasons.   Media presence is distracting to a classroom environment.

But one adult participant went out of her way to make sure Valerie knew that this wasn't about avoiding distraction.  She came to the closed gate to berate Valerie.  The conversation quickly turned ugly and personal, with elements of paranoia.

"You have no message, no purpose," the woman, who did not identify herself, said to Valerie.

Valerie explained that she was there to cover a story.  But the challenger didn't buy it.  She saw a more sinister purpose.  "You're trying to track students.  They're trying to have their own automomous space."  And just to make sure her meaning was clear, she added, "Do you feel you have to infiltrate us?"

Right.  Valerie was not there as a reporter, but as a spy and infiltrator.  Not a very good one, though.  A spy who gets busted at the door would not appear to have a bright future ahead in the field of  espionage.  Maybe the next time she tries to go undercover, she should consider ditching the camera-weilding photographer who had accompanied her that day.

The challenger went on.  "The fact that you are here just sends us a bad message.  We'll send you a bad message. Your name is a bad message."

Valerie attempted to explain one of the issues that made the story newsworthy, pointing out that the kids were not in school.  But the challenger interrupted.  "Is that upsetting you? Is that upsetting you personally?"

Valerie said that it was in no way personal, but the challenger continued.  "So you have no connection.  You are empty.  I hope you know that."

This unnamed challenger, one one of a handful of adults who got to address kids behind closed doors that day at a time when they were supposed to be in school, can feel good that her message to the students is getting across.  On this day, at least, many of the kids were willing to believe that the media are the enemy.  Conversation wasn't completely shut down but it was curtailed. 

To be fair, not all participants appeared to feel the same way.  Valerie did succeed in getting some interviews, and she presented the gist of what she heard in her stories.  But that was despite the best efforts of some organizers who tried hard to shut down any kind of dialogue. 

No doubt these same organizers, having succeeded in muzzling so many of those on their own side, will turn around later and accuse KGUN9 of one-sided coverage.  (Update:  it did not take long for that prediction to be fulfilled, as the comments section below this story will show).

That, indeed, was a common off-camera complaint that Valerie heard that day -- that coverage is one sided, hostile, distorted, and so on.  The complaints were all generic in nature, and sounded as if they'd all come from the same playbook.  But no one had any specific complaints about any particular story that Valerie or KGUN9 News had presented.

If anyone does have such a complaint about KGUN9 News, the place to present it is here.  But be advised that the most common complaint that KGUN9 News has received from viewers about this issue is that we are soft on the ethnic studies program and on the protesters.  I personally went several rounds last week on Facebook with a right-leaning viewer who presented just such a complaint.  This fits with the usual narrative from the right that the media are all engaged in a liberal conspiracy.

It's our goal, and duty, not to take sides, no matter how much the partisans on each side want that and demand for us to do that.  But we do respond to attacks, comments, criticisms and questions about our coverage - hence today's Viewers' Voice posting.

Below are samples of what you have to say. 

"USA Mouse:"  "Suspend and fail them all, then see how quick they cry 'unfair.'  They were told no 'ethnic classes' yet they are taught in these classes to defy authority 'till they get what they want. This is America, time to take back our country."

"sixfingeredchyld" (in reaction to the comment above):  "They do rank higher in education than the U.S. Just sayin'."

"1st Sergeant:"  "The land of the free! Remember the words 'That all men are created equal'? Do you know the Bill of rights? The right to assemble, the right to freedom of speech? This is what makes America great! Bigotry, hate and ingnorance destroy!"

"tucsongal:"  "1. Are the schools 'closed campuses'? If so, detention for all students leaving unauthorized. 2. The kids do not pick the curriculum, the state Adminstrators do. 3. No LaRaza based classses in our schools.  Pretty simple.  Oh and teach these kids respect."

"feeB eldooN:"  Mexican-American Studies classes ARE available in MEXICO. If you don't like what you are getting here, go take the classes in Mexico. See what those schools do to you when you walk out."

"Papoosie:"  "My, my, my, look at all the intelligent and thoughtful comments from the KGUN followers. I wouldn't expect anything less than this lack of understanding of the issue. Maybe Europe is a better place for YOU to live."

"Latinahulagirl:"  "These students should hold their silence and wait to take the class through PCC after they graduate High School. Now they will have to suffer the consequences."

"arizonajim:"  "Kids do not have a right to skip school.  We tax payers are footing the bill for them. Adalita Grijalva is behind this and should be terminated from the board imediately for inciting a riot and teaching these kids to be thugs."

"TaitAZ:"  "Everyone is so rough on the students. These are just children that have been manipilated and don't really know the politics or the business behind why this program went from enthics education to activisim. They are only doing what they were taught."

"Hatesracism1327:" "Arizonans education is biased and censored. What's wrong with learning the truth? These kids shouldn't be punished for excercising their constitutional right to assemble."

Doris Wood (via Facebook):  "Attention TUSD kids and parents:  Do you think you are MORE IMPORTANT than other groups? ??? There are MANY students in that district with cultural ties to other countries. You should be singled out for your own class?!?? YOU ARE IN AMERICA.  American History should be top priority in schools.  You want to learn your family-cultural history?  Do what the rest of us do - learn it on our own time from our families!"

Shawna Lynn Barroga (via Facebook):  "I was a kid once too. I am not totally dumb. I know that a LOT of them used it as an excuse to get out of school! Just have to read their FB pages.  Do their parents even KNOW WHERE their kids where that day? I bet NOT and I bet they did not care."

Corrine G. Settle (via Facebook):  "Kgun 9, why are you reporting constantly on this subject and giving the students publicity? Skipping school because you don't get your way is childish. Life is not always fair. Learn this and live it and grow up already. KOLD and KVOA are the smart stations for not giving this story too much coverage."

Ronald Gordon (via Facebook):  "Several months ago another demonstration by students. Some were carrying the Mexican flag. I am of English ancestry but don't have the Union Jack in my window."

Karolita Guevara (via Facebok):  :Excuse me, but why are you guys judging this students when you have no idea who they are. And the only people that teach them to be like that is people like YOU and your racism also people like the goverment who only think of themselves and nobody else. So please have some respect and stop with YOUR racism crap."

Update:  Late Friday afternoon, I received this email from University of Arizona associate professor Dr. Julio Cammarota, who is an ethnic studies advocate, leader and scholar.   Here is the full text of that email:

"I believe the young people at the ethnic studies event on Tuesday are tired of being characterized as nefarious, plotting extremists.  When in fact, they just want to experience the ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice that have been promised to them as Americans.  Perhaps that is why they chose to hold the event in their own 'space,' away from anyone who could possibly construe their actions as destructive. The event was completely constructive and positive, focusing on ways the community and young people can move forward in a healthy direction. It is unfortunate that the state and media have portrayed MAS students in such a negative light, using such inflammatory language  as 'dressed in revolutionary garb.'  Of course, if one uses inflammatory language, the naysayers will feel entitled to say and write negative comments.  Just take a look at the bloggers’ comments in the Viewers' Voice; most are very hateful toward the young people.  I write these words with the utmost respect and understanding.  It must feel bad to be denied access. But just think of how these young people must feel.  With sincerity, Julio Cammarota."

KGUN9's efforts to create dialogue such as this will continue.  Your comments are welcome.   You may post your comments here on, but we note that our Facebook page allows for longer and more detailed posts.   And if I may make one friendly reminder:  this debate has a lot of people very worked up, as we've seen.    We invite all comments, barring those that are vulgar or racist.  But we suggest that what's needed at this point is less shouting, posturing and pulpit-pounding, and more thoughtful and respectful exchanges and observations.