Angeles Maldonado allowed students in her Global Politics of Human Rights class to choose between an exam and a group project. The class chose a protest project. The Twittersphere lit up in response.
An Arizona State University instructor who teaches a course on human rights has become the target of an angry, hate-spewing social media mob after she allowed her students to stage a protest instead of taking a final exam.
On April 13, students of Angeles Maldonado, a faculty associate, held a protest against racism and immigrant-rights violations at the Tempe campus. Conservative media outlets seized on the story, painting Maldonado as the face of the anti-Donald Trump movement.
Critics on the social-media platform Twitter took notice.
For the past week, Maldonado said, strangers have been filling her inboxes with degrading and vilifying insults.
Among them: racial slurs, sexist remarks, rape threats and comments about violent discourse. Pictures of her child and her home address have been spread online.
“It’s really damaging. It’s demoralizing to be told all these things,” Maldonado said. “But it illustrates why these types of actions (demonstrations) are important. This is what we were fighting for — I’m glad the students brought awareness toward this issue.”
In the syllabus for her Global Politics of Human Rights class, Maldonado said she outlined two “final exam” options that students could choose: a research paper or a group project that focused on human-rights issues.
The class of 24 students chose the group project, Maldonado said.
ASU officials respond
Maldonado said critics of the class have targeted ASU for allowing the protest to be held, threatening to go after funding and other types of support from the school.
The university was aware of the protest and Maldonado said she agreed to terms beforehand to keep the protest safe. In the aftermath, Maldonado said ASU President Michael Crow reached out to her to make sure she was OK and safe.
The university issued the following statement to The Republic last week:
“As an institution of higher education and an environment that promotes academic freedom, Arizona State University supports the free exchange and expression of ideas. All individuals and groups on campus have the right to express their opinions, whatever those opinions may be, as long as they do not violate student code of conduct and student organization policies and do not infringe on another student’s individual rights. This policy applies to all students.”
Maldonado questioned why students should now be put in a position to explain themselves.
“The students were shocked,” she said. “They didn’t understand why everyone was so angry — it’s a human-rights issue (that they were protesting).
“Nobody’s asked about the actual story,” she added. “They just assumed (it was anti-Trump). Even if that was the case, I don’t see why it’s so threatening that students want to do a demonstration, given what’s happening (around the country).”
Professor: ‘The actual story’
Maldonado said the topic of the protest grew out of class discussions. During the semester, the president had signed orders cracking down on illegal immigration and restricting travel from a handful of Muslim-majority nations.
The students, she said, “felt their identities were under attack and they felt a sense of solidarity due to the anxiety and tension they experienced.”
After discussing a variety of ideas that ranged from a diversity festival to a demonstration, the students ultimately decided to hold a protest to speak out about the issues that personally resonated with them, from LGBT rights to the Black Lives Matter movement, she said.
“They picked issues that they see as important,” Maldonado said. “They see this in their communities, they see families being split up, poverty, discrimination. They are mature young people with ideas and passions and are impacted by everything going on.”
The class was nearly unanimous in its decision to hold a protest, and, as a human-rights professor, Maldonado said she was more than willing to support it.
“In our reading, we learned how human rights aren’t achieved without action,” Maldonado said.
Maldonado said at first she was excited to see the attention and the interest that her students’ work garnered, then the emails started to roll in. And the tweets.
How the student protest took shape
The students initially split up into various committees to plan all aspects of the protest, from researching the causes to promoting the demonstration to reaching out to university officials and requesting a permit to hold it on campus, Maldonado said.
She told students the protest would be accompanied by an individual reflection paper, a group paper based off their committee research and a class paper that links the individual narratives, committee work and their readings from the semester.
The extent to which students participated in the protest also was entirely up to them, Maldonado said, adding that one student decided not to participate.
After weeks of planning and organizing, 23 of the students gathered near Hayden Library on the university’s Tempe campus and presented their group project.
Instead of taking a final exam, some ASU students organized a protest on the Tempe campus.
The protest, which took place in one of the most heavily trafficked areas of a campus that has seen its fair share of protesters, caught the eye of other students as well. Some grabbed signs and were welcomed into the class’s makeshift wall, spelling out “Wall Against Hate.”
After a couple of run-ins with university police over blocking passers-by, the protesters moved on to the Hayden lawn area. The protest eventually dispersed.
Story spreads to conservative outlets
Among the headlines:
“Arizona State U professor allows students to protest Trump instead of taking final exam”
“Forget the final exam: Prof lets students protest Trump instead”
“Final exams are next week … unless you hate Trump”
No regrets: ‘I am humbled to be a part of this’
Maldonado emphasized that the students came up with the ideas and execution all on their own. She did not shape their thinking or influence the focus of the protest, she said.
“It happened organically,” she said. “The students were energized and committed and did more work than they probably would have on a regular group project.
“My role is to be more of a facilitator, not a teacher,” Maldonado said. “For me, who is in the room creates what is interesting to them. So, if they are passionate about racism or education, I believe it is my duty to lead the class in exploring their existing curiosities, passions, interests.”
Does Maldonado regret giving students the option to create a group project?
“No. Not at all,” she said. “I am humbled to be a part of this. The students are so strong; their role is to be critical thinkers, and that’s what they are. I cannot emphasize enough how proud I am of them.”
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