2019
June
12
Wednesday

Sometimes, good news quietly gets better.

Last year, Monitor staff writer Christa Case Bryant reported on a city in West Virginia that cut its opioid overdose rate in half, thanks to compassionate outreach for those struggling with addiction. The idea was simple: follow up with every survivor within 72 hours, sharing resources to help them get their lives back on track.

The Quick Response Team (QRT) was a relatively new initiative of Huntington, West Virginia. The results were dramatic for a city dubbed the epicenter of the national opioid crisis.

A year later, we checked back in. Not only has their success held steady, the average overdose rate in 2019 so far has been lower than in 2018. Of 1,180 individuals they’ve reached out to, they’ve been able to connect with 577, and 171 have gotten into treatment.

They’ve also added a faith-based component with local faith leaders – including a Baptist preacher, a rabbi, and an Episcopalian priest – joining a representative from EMS, the police department, and a treatment provider on each visit.

“I had one of the faith leaders say, ‘I offered to pray with one of the individuals,’” says QRT coordinator Connie Priddy. “He was so proud. He said, ‘I’ve never had anyone refuse to pray with me.’”

They have also been a support to team members, she adds. For all their success, the work can be heavy at times. Recently she saw a team member move a client’s folder to the bottom filing cabinet drawer after the individual died, and felt the solemnity of the moment. “They’ve worked hard, they know these people ... and now they’ve passed away,” she says. “Having those faith leaders there as support for them has really been great for the team.”

Now for our five stories of the day, featuring two countries where protesters are demanding freedom in the face of violence and a new kind of homebuying that has community built in.

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1. Hong Kong protests: ‘We have the power to demand democracy’

Why do young people so often seem to be at the front of protests? Maybe it’s the sense that their futures are the ones most at stake – and that’s particularly true in Hong Kong today, as Beijing’s control intensifies. 

Yvonne
Kin Cheung/AP
A protester gestures after clashes with riot police during a massive demonstration outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong June 12. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who had massed outside government headquarters in opposition to a proposed bill that has become a lightning rod for concerns over greater Chinese control.

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Hong Kong is no stranger to protests, and students have often been on their front lines. But Wednesday, as tens of thousands of demonstrators massed around the territory’s government headquarters, the demonstrations and police response reached their most intense levels in years, with tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray used to drive back the crowds.

The source of protesters’ anger? A proposal that could make it easier to extradite suspects of certain crimes. But in a city constantly wary of Beijing’s growing grip, many fear it would be used to try government critics on the mainland. The bill has become a focal point for anxieties about Hong Kong’s eroding autonomy, especially among young residents who will live longest with the consequences.

“We need to let our government know we have the power to demand democracy,” said Eden Choi, a 22-year-old who works in marketing.

The protesters pulled off their immediate goal: blocking traffic around the legislature to delay a scheduled reading of the bill. But the game of cat and mouse with police continued through the evening – and the bill’s passage, once it comes to vote, seems near certain.

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Hong Kong protests: ‘We have the power to demand democracy’

At dawn on Wednesday, thousands of young people gathered outside Hong Kong’s government complex, determined to stop what the adults had not.

The city’s legislature was scheduled that morning to discuss an extradition plan that would make it easier to ship criminal suspects elsewhere, including mainland China. The bill has drawn the ire of residents, government opponents, religious groups, businesses, and international governments, all saying that such a law would endanger people critical of the Chinese government.

Thousands of teenagers and college students, many wearing black clothes and sanitary masks, surged onto the city’s major highway during morning rush hour, aiming to thwart entrance to the legislature. Within hours they were joined by tens of thousands of people. The throng managed to hold six traffic lanes for eight hours until police drove them off using pepper spray, rubber bullets, beanbag rounds, and many rounds of tear gas.

Watching the determined young people wearing construction helmets and gripping umbrellas as they stared down the cops, some crowd members grew confident. “I think we’ll win,” said a 24-year-old graduate student who would identify himself only as Tommy. “We’re going to last. We have the power. We have the spirit.”

It was the second time in five years that protesters held this stretch of road, fighting what they consider to be mainland China’s threats to their freedom. In 2014, tens of thousands of people joined the Umbrella Revolution, named for the device they used to fend off pepper spray. Then, the participants sought democratic elections, which had been promised in 2017, but their pleas and a 79-day sit-in failed to sway Beijing.

By many measures, Beijing’s intrusions and directives in recent years have eroded the city’s independence and provoked anxiety in the former British colony. When handed back to China in 1997, Hong Kong received its own constitution under a “one country, two systems” framework, and those rights and freedoms, greater than elsewhere in China, were supposed to last until at least 2047. But many residents question how many protections will even last to 2047, let alone after – and young people say that, since they will live longer under Beijing’s rule, they will bear the highest cost.

That fear drove thousands of them to risk their safety in defiance of police orders Wednesday. The demonstrations and police response churned to one of the most serious confrontations since 2014.

Officials labeled the protest a riot and accused protestors of “life-threatening acts.” That indicates the government might impose serious public disorder charges against those arrested, with prison sentences of up to 10 years.

Hours earlier, young people who donned masks and handed out gloves and protective cling wrap were not cowed. “We need to let our government know we have the power to demand democracy,” said Eden Choi, a 22-year-old who works in marketing. “We are not like before, in the Umbrella Revolution. We are more strong and powerful.”

Despite taking the highway, many protesters remained on edge. They won a temporary victory when lawmakers delayed the bill’s reading. But protests continued into the evening. By nightfall, several hundred protesters were on the move, playing cat and mouse with police as they sought new turf in a nearby business district.

Kin Cheung/AP
A protester reacts as she tackled by riot police during a massive demonstration outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, June 12.

Unpopular proposal

The extradition bill debate has been boiling since February, with two demonstrations so far in June. Hundreds of thousands of people marched through the city center on Sunday against the rendition bill, one of the biggest demonstrations in the city’s history. Organizers estimated that more than 1 million people joined, although police put the number at about a quarter of that.

Despite the massive turnout, Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam said the bill’s passage must go ahead quickly, lest the city become a fugitive haven. Chinese leaders support the bill, and its passage is a near certainty because Beijing loyalists dominate Hong Kong’s legislative body.

Ms. Lam and her secretaries have tried to reassure the public and critics that the extradition bill would impact fugitives of serious crimes only. But activists, lawyers, and legal scholars have argued that Beijing could easily write up charges that ensnare dissidents, who could then be sent to face charges on the mainland, whose legal system is often accused of arbitrary detention and torture.

“We had a protest of 1.03 million, but the government simply ignores and neglects the opinion of the Hong Kong people,” says William Cheung, a 23-year-old student. “They’re worried about Hong Kong’s safety. They’re worried about Hong Kong’s future.”

Young residents – the majority of whom see themselves as Hong Konger, not Chinese – have often become the face of pushback against Beijing. In 2012, students organized a massive campaign against a patriotic curriculum, arguing that it would amount to brainwashing. Joshua Wong, a student activist who became a leader of the Umbrella Revolution as a teenager, is now serving a two-month sentence related to a 2014 protest.

Bringing traffic to a standstill

Wednesday’s events were chaotic, unplanned, and peppered with contradictory actions. The protesters first stepped onto Harcourt Road, packed with rush-hour commuters, shortly after 8 a.m. on a muggy, cloudy day. A few young men dragged some stanchions in place, but then got spooked and fled. Minutes later, several protesters tried again. On both sides of the highway the protesters wound their way past rumbling buses and idled cars.

Longtime protest leaders showed up in the afternoon to offer support and, perhaps, some direction. Avery Ng, leader of the League of Social Democrats, one of the leading pro-democracy parties, addressed people atop a bus depot to stand their ground. “The police can’t do anything,” he told them. “We are so many people.” Below, volunteers poured saline solution into the eyes of young people who police soaked with pepper spray.

Later in the afternoon, police returned in force. Units of riot police entered over footbridges. They confronted hunger strikers sitting on the ground, a few praying aloud. Other units shot off tear gas in a park nearby along Victoria Harbour. They then fired into crowds standing near a stage to hear speakers. When dusk came, police moved down the highway and its off-roads, firing more. Some protesters tried to douse the fallen canisters with wet rags, hoping to minimize the effect of the acrid gas.

By nightfall, police chased a few thousand protesters into Pacific Place, a luxury mall just off a central roadway. Some young people napped, snacked, and enjoyed an air-conditioning break after a day spent in the clammy air.

Throughout the day, many young people owned up to their worries.

“All of Hong Kong is scared,” says a young woman who identified herself as Tam, a 21-year-old college student. “But we have no choice.”

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2. How horrors in Sudan undermined US trust in its top Arab allies

In relations between allies, common interests are important. So are common values. The Sudan military’s violent crackdown on civilian protesters has exposed a sharp split between the U.S. and its Gulf Arab allies on both fronts.

Yvonne
AP
A protester flashes the victory sign in front of burning tires and debris on road 60, near Khartoum's army headquarters, in Khartoum, Sudan, June 3.

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The United States and its top Arab allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were way out of sync on Sudan. Days after meeting with Emirati and Saudi rulers in Mecca and Abu Dhabi, leaders of Sudan’s military junta cut off talks with the country’s civilian and pro-democratic opposition. What followed was a brutal massacre in which more than 120 were confirmed dead.

The State Department then took the unusual step to publicize phone calls between Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale and Saudi and Emirati officials. “They are sending a message to the Saudis and to the UAE that we want a civilian government and that they should stop supporting this military regime that is violating human rights,” says Herman J. Cohen, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

But even as the U.S. moves now to contain the bloodshed, another dynamic is in play, say Arab diplomats familiar with White House policy: a reported personal “disinterest” in Sudan among President Donald Trump and his immediate inner circle that is allowing the U.S. State Department to reassert itself.

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How horrors in Sudan undermined US trust in its top Arab allies

The brutal repression of pro-democracy protesters by Sudan’s military is exposing cracks in the United States-Gulf Arab alliance, under which Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been entrusted to safeguard U.S. interests in the region.

At its core, the spiraling violence in Sudan is showcasing diverging threat perceptions between the U.S. and its Gulf partners. While the U.S. is concerned about the potential rise of extremism and anti-U.S. terrorism, its allies are focused on democratic impulses in Sudan that would threaten their own internal stability.

But even as the U.S. moves now to contain the bloodshed, another dynamic is in play, say Arab diplomats familiar with White House policy: a reported personal “disinterest” in Sudan among President Donald Trump and his immediate inner circle that is allowing the U.S. State Department to reassert itself.

With the U.S. dispatching its top diplomat on Africa to Khartoum, it appears the days of Gulf Arab monarchs steering U.S. policy in the region may be numbered. 

The Gulf playbook

After Sudanese people-power toppled longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in April, the military and democracy activists held talks over a transition to a civilian government.

Then Saudi Arabia and the UAE dusted off the playbook they had used in post-revolution Egypt and Libya: Bolster a strongman, cement a friendly military dictatorship, repress all calls for democracy and dissent.

Yet while the strategy cemented Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s grip on power and propelled Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the Libyan warlord, to a near-victory, something went wrong in Sudan last week.

Days after meeting with Emirati and Saudi rulers in Mecca and Abu Dhabi, leaders of Sudan’s military junta cut off talks with the opposition – a move many observers expected would be followed with a crackdown on protesters.  

Yet unlike the brutal efficiency of Mr. Sisi’s gunning down of Muslim Brotherhood supporters on the streets of Cairo in 2013, the crackdown by the military junta in Khartoum was gory, recalling the atrocities of the janjaweed militia.

Dozens of bloated bodies, some hacked to death, were recovered from the bottom of the Nile. Mass rape was reported. Viral videos spread of militiamen taunting and laughing as they clubbed old men and women. More than 120 people were confirmed dead. And then, an Internet blackout was imposed that continued as of Wednesday.

The Gulf monarchies had unleashed the scorched-Earth genocidal violence previously carried out by the fringes of Mr. Bashir’s regime in Darfur and South Sudan onto the streets of Khartoum for the very first time – and in front of cameras.

Cleaning up the mess

“The Sudanese, African, and Arab publics and the international community are starting to realize the impact of Gulf intervention in Sudan,” says Oraib al-Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies.

“These massacres and brutal crackdown have Saudi and UAE fingerprints all over it, and the U.S. administration is implicated as supporting them by supplying weapons and political support to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.”

In the wake of the violence, the State Department took the unusual step to publicize phone calls between Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale and Saudi and Emirati officials.

Mr. Hale spoke with Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman “about the brutal crackdown against peaceful protesters by Sudan’s Transitional Military Council on June 3,” according to the State Department, in which Mr. Hale noted “the importance of a transition from the Transitional Military Council to a civilian-led government in accordance with the will of the Sudanese people.”

A second communiqué noted that Mr. Hale called UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash to “discuss the situation in Sudan and efforts to support a political solution.”

According to veteran U.S. diplomats, the communiqués sent a message to both Arab capitals and the military junta in Sudan that “the U.S. does not accept the Saudi and UAE arguments” for military rule in Khartoum.

“They are sending a message to the Saudis and to the UAE that we want a civilian government and that they should stop supporting this military regime that is violating human rights and is, at its basic form, the janjaweed militia,” says Herman J. Cohen, former ambassador and assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

Privately, U.S. diplomats in the Middle East speak of frustration in Washington that the U.S. must intervene, as one put it, to “clean up their mess” in Sudan.

Regional stability

Central to Washington’s and the Gulf’s disagreement over Sudan is regional stability.

Sudan, which straddles both North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, has implications for dozens of nearby states including Ethiopia, Egypt, Chad, Somalia, and even across the Red Sea.

There is a growing apprehension that instability in Sudan could threaten U.S. interests and its allies; it was from Sudan that Al Qaeda plotted and arranged the deadly 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200 people.

However, the UAE and Saudi Arabia view Sudan purely through the lens of their own regimes’ stability and economic interests, according to those close to their thinking. A continuation of a military regime in Khartoum dependent on the Gulf would ensure the continued supply both of Sudanese soldiers and militias to fight their war in Yemen and cheap agricultural produce to their arid countries.

And the repression of democracy advocates, they believe, would prevent an export of protests and demands for freedoms and civil liberties back home.

“I think Saudis and officials in UAE are content to have an autocratic government there, largely because they think it will forestall the prospects of jihadists taking control and ensure their stability,” says Johnnie Carson, a former ambassador who served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Obama administration. 

“But the reality is that if in fact the will of the Sudanese people is suppressed under a military authority, then we will see continued instability in that country, and that instability will have effects far outside its borders,” Mr. Carson says.

Remnants of the regime

Increasing the tensions between the White House and the Gulf are vastly differing views of the Sudanese military council that has seized power.

Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the second-in-command in the Transitional Military Council, is a favored ally of Riyadh, and his Rapid Support Forces are fighting in Yemen. But to the U.S., Mr. Hamdan is a war criminal who helped lead the janjaweed forces’ genocidal atrocities in Darfur.

The rest of the council are remnants of the Bashir regime, which had previously harbored Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden and exported jihadists to Somalia, raising concerns within the National Security Council that unless a peaceful handover to a civilian government occurs, extremism could breed in Sudan once again.

This turns on its head the core argument Saudi Arabia and the UAE has used to champion military regime proxies across the Arab world: put in a strongman, or the Islamists will rise up.

In Sudan this line of reasoning has fallen flat for some members of the Trump administration, particularly among hawkish advisers such as John Bolton, who described the recent massacre as “abhorrent.” 

As the State Department reasserts its role, the White House this week appointed Donald Booth, a respected career diplomat with intimate knowledge of Africa, as a special adviser on Sudan.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy was expected to arrive in Khartoum Wednesday to hold talks with the military junta to urge a civilian transition, an admission that diplomacy by proxy through Riyadh and Abu Dhabi has had “catastrophic” results.

“Sudan is an enormously important state to get right,” says Mr. Carson. “The U.S. has to engage both Saudi Arabia and the UAE to get them to understand that it is in their own interests as well as our interests – and most importantly the people of Sudan – to have a civilian-led government and not an authoritarian government controlled by military officials.”

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Finding ‘home’

An occasional series exploring what it means to belong

3. Want to live in the city? Try buying a house with five friends.

Modern urban living is often solitary and prohibitively expensive. Could communal ownership of a city residence provide solutions to both problems? Part of an occasional series on Finding “Home.”

Yvonne

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Toronto’s West End would be out of budget for most 30-somethings. But a half-dozen friends combined their savings to buy a three-story, brick-facade home, with all six named on the mortgage. For the six, it is not just to pool finances, but a way to forge a new type of home on a city street that can otherwise seem crushingly lonely.

On this evening, five of the six residents are washing dishes after dinner. The task is completed organically, as are other chores like laundry. Shower times are not prescribed. Other duties are divvied up and strictly followed. Expenses such as groceries are shared equally. Co-owner Mandy Sherman says the group’s goal is to open the conversation to others – to show how to build community, especially beyond the standard dichotomy that “everybody lives alone or in partners, and that’s it.”

“For a long time it didn’t occur to me that lives unfold in other ways,” she says. “So there was a little bit of a revelation in that too, of ‘oh there are other alternatives,’” she says. “And they’re actually really wonderful.”

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Want to live in the city? Try buying a house with five friends.

It is their first home together. And as soon as they took possession, they tore down a load-bearing wall and gutted the ground floor, painstakingly discussing everything as they built it back up, from the color of the walls to what would go where.

This hasn’t been a negotiation among two adults, however, navigating new homeownership together. It’s involved six.

On a residential street in Toronto’s West End that would be out of budget for most 30-somethings, a half-dozen friends combined their savings to buy a three-story, brick-facade home, rising above Toronto’s turbulent housing market.

It’s a sign of the financial times. But the main driver has been cultural: an intentional choice made to pool together not just finances but life experience, perspective, and generosity of spirit – forging a new type of home on a city street that can otherwise seem crushingly lonely.

They call it Clarens Commons, and with all six named on the mortgage in a five-year term that anticipates everything from marriage and kids to a “dream job in Copenhagen,” their homemaking reflects the alternative ways that young adults are redefining community, and their place in it, today.

“We all essentially have made a bit of a sacrifice to our independence, to our ‘do-whatever-we-wantness’ so that this project can work,” says co-owner Karim Rizkallah.

21st century co-living

This tale starts with a housing market that, as in many large cities in North America, has priced out young people and made homeownership more inaccessible – and communities, in turn, more unstable.

In May the average detached home in Toronto was selling for $1.3 million (Canadian; U.S.$980,000), according to the Toronto Real Estate Board, which happens to be what Clarens Commons cost. That’s in a city that has the world’s 12th most expensive property prices, according to CBRE Residential.

The residents here were able to overcome financial barriers with a six-person mortgage of varying ownership stakes – providing a chance for all to build equity and find stability, after years of renting in a market where the fear of landlord repossession and turnover runs deep.

On a recent evening, five of the six residents are washing dishes after dinner. The task is completed organically, as are other chores like laundry. Shower times are not prescribed. Other duties are divvied up and strictly followed. Expenses such as groceries are shared equally, in a system they’ve agreed to that values generosity over penny-pinching. When they offer fresh raspberries and nuts to a visitor, everyone has contributed. For longer absences, if someone is on vacation or a business trip, grocery money is not deducted.

Every decision is a conversation, what could be ceaselessly stultifying to some. But the residents here insist it’s invigorating – to see the prospects and ideas that emerge from six minds coming to terms together.

Co-living might hark back to the 1960s and ’70s when hippie communes flourished in rural settings, or even the boarding houses that 19th-century immigrants could afford. But millennials have put a 21st-century stamp on their lifestyle choices. The most common form is renting. New companies like Ollie or HubHaus have sprung up, offering residences that are part-dorm, part-hotel in some of the most expensive rental markets from New York to San Francisco.

It’s an antidote to isolation that many surveyed in Western nations say they feel. In Canada, the most common type of household today is single-dweller. In the latest census, 28% of Canadian households were comprised of those living alone, exceeding for the first time households of couples with children. In 1951, single-occupant households accounted for just 7%.

‘Chosen family’

Sabrina Bowman would have been counted in those statistics before she moved in with her five co-owners last August. She enjoys her alone time. In fact, several of the members call themselves introverts, saying they often opt out of the events like movie nights in the house when they feel like curling into bed with a book instead.

But then she noticed that her friends were starting to pair off and have kids. And one day when she was struggling to haul a washing machine up to her third-floor apartment it struck her: “I felt like I didn’t have a person,” she says.

Loneliness has gotten much media attention lately, from seniors living alone to young people living anonymously in big urban clusters. Britain appointed a minister specifically dedicated to the issue in 2018. “We’re talking about technology. We’re talking about the messages of Western culture, ‘each to his own.’ We’re talking about people running after privacy,” says Ami Rokach, a York University professor who studies loneliness.

Homeowners acknowledge the benefit of company, but it’s in the shared living where they see the real value of their project. For Ms. Bowman, that’s the cooking she brings, literally, to the table. “I make big pots of food, and then it gets eaten,” she says. “It makes my Jewish mother heart extremely full to feed everyone all the time.”

Co-housing, where residents create and manage intentional neighborhoods, has become more popular in recent years, especially among seniors looking for alternatives to dependency on their families or institutions.

But co-living, where owners share a single space, is less encumbered and more accessible to a generation that can’t as easily afford traditional homeowning, nor necessarily want it, but craves connection, says Charles Durrett, an architect and pioneer of co-housing in North America. “It’s very possible that co-living will exceed co-housing in the next five, next 10 years … because of this whole millennial phenomenon,” he says. “It’s a game-changer moment.”

Co-owner Mandy Sherman, who works in communications for a nongovernmental organization in Toronto, says the group’s goal is to open the conversation to others – to show how to build community, especially beyond the standard dichotomy that “everybody lives alone or in partners, and that’s it,” she says.

As a girl, Ms. Sherman assumed she’d live in an upper-middle-class neighborhood with a partner, kids, and a dog. Now she finds herself in the first home she’s ever bought after the stresses of renting (in one 10-year period she counts 11 moves). And she, like the other residents of Clarens Commons, find no exact term to define what they mean to one another: housemates, friends, relatives? She tends toward the concept “chosen family” – and has a new image for herself of what “home” can be.

“For a long time it didn’t occur to me that lives unfold in other ways,” she says. “So there was a little bit of a revelation in that too, of ‘oh there are other alternatives.’ That’s interesting,’” she says. “And they’re actually really wonderful.”

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4. Corporate partnerships offer college students tuition – and a cubicle

Campus jobs have been around as long as there have been cafeterias. But a new twist on the idea lets students pay down tuition and take their learning into the cubicle.

Yvonne
Kim Raff/Hechinger Report
A call center near the University of Utah in Salt Lake City employs students through Education at Work. EAW arranges jobs with companies such as Microsoft and Discover using space in buildings provided by partnering universities.

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As students struggle with college costs and the strain of balancing work and school, the nonprofit Education at Work offers a new way of leveraging corporate America’s thirst for skilled talent and colleges’ desire to tout how well they prepare young people for careers.

Founded by a call-center executive, EAW sets up partnerships between universities and large employers to provide jobs. EAW employed 488 students on four campuses last year and has plans to expand to 1,521 by 2021. The companies pay EAW, which then pays the student workers, while the universities provide the office space. Students typically work 16 to 20 hours per week, the upper limit of what some experts say is acceptable during college. 

“This job kind of teaches you the stuff that school doesn’t teach you,” says Sera Ashman, a student at the University of Utah working on the Microsoft floor while she’s studying to become a video game designer. “I’m learning how to work with co-workers, how to work with a client, and meet deadlines.”

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Corporate partnerships offer college students tuition – and a cubicle

On the third floor of a downtown office building, Solomon Kalapala is chatting with a Microsoft customer on one computer screen while troubleshooting the customer’s misbehaving software on another.

“I’m basically running a repair,” says Mr. Kalapala. If the online fix doesn’t work, he explains, “I’ll do an uninstall and reinstall.”

Pink Floyd blares in the background as Mr. Kalapala goes about his work. His colleagues fill cubicles that stretch the length of the building, their workspaces adorned with the trumpery of office life – a mini basketball hoop, a life-size cutout of the main character in “The Big Lebowski.”

These aren’t typical call center employees, however. They’re among about 300 University of Utah students who have side jobs here arranged by a nonprofit called Education at Work. 

Founded by a call center executive, EAW sets up partnerships between universities and large employers to provide jobs like Mr. Kalapala’s. The employers get reliable employees and prospective hires while the universities can offer students a novel way to work for tuition and keep their loan debt low.

The students also get work experience, says Taylor Randall, dean of the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business.

“They learn a set of remarkable customer service skills,” says Mr. Randall. “In my mind, they learn it better here than they would just listening to it in the classroom.”

Kim Raff/Hechinger Report
Scott Blevins, senior vice president of university partnerships and student success at EAW, says the Salt Lake City office has ‘one of the highest customer satisfaction results’ Microsoft has seen on the consumer side of its business.

As students struggle with college costs and the strain of balancing work and school, EAW provides a little-noticed new way of leveraging corporate America’s thirst for skilled talent and colleges’ desire to tout how well they prepare young people for careers. The nonprofit employed 488 students on four campuses last year and has plans to expand to 1,521 by 2021.

Offering part-time corporate work can allow the school to say, “Yeah we’ve raised tuition, but guess what, we’ve got this program; you can pay for over half your education, in the University of Utah’s case,” says Mr. Randall. EAW’s University of Utah graduates end up with half the student loan debt of their peers, the organization reports.

An alternative to state funding 

Mr. Kalapala spends about 25 hours a week at his Microsoft customer support gig, a quick downhill trek from the university campus in the nearby foothills. It beats his previous job – a summer of cold-calling alumni for donations – which he says he hated.

He makes $9.75 an hour, which is higher than the state’s minimum wage. Other students here work for Discover Financial Services, where the pay starts at $10 an hour. All EAW student workers also get a scholarship of as much as $5,250 a year toward their tuition, depending on their grades and work attendance. Since EAW began operations in Utah in 2017, about 325 students have received $700,000 in tuition assistance, the organization says; so far Mr. Kalapara has netted $2,200 toward his tuition.

EAW has similar arrangements with Arizona State University, Northern Kentucky University, and Ohio’s Mount St. Joseph University. The companies pay EAW, which then pays the student workers, while the universities provide the office space. The University of Utah spends about $600,000 a year for the lease, utilities, and janitorial services for the three floors EAW occupies in the downtown Salt Lake City building.

The idea comes at a time when declining state support has pushed up tuition at Utah’s public universities. State funding per student here is down 18% since 2008, when adjusted for inflation. During that time, annual tuition and fees at the University of Utah rose from $5,285 to $9,222.

Students typically work 16 to 20 hours per week through EAW, the upper limit of what some experts say is acceptable during college. Research by an offshoot of the organization that administers the ACT college admissions test has found that students who work more than 15 hours a week are more likely to fall behind in their academic progress and not graduate on time.

But that also depends on how they use the rest of their time, says Judith Scott-Clayton, a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“If they’d be playing video games instead, then working is probably not worse and may well be better than that particular alternative,” says Ms. Scott-Clayton, who also directs the Economics and Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. (The Hechinger Report, which produced this story, is an independent unit of Teachers College.) 

Mr. Randall says the kind of work students perform through EAW is not interfering with their education; it’s enhancing it.

“If we’re trying to get people ready for jobs, the more we can make school look and feel like the real world, at some point, the better” it is, he says. 

Kim Raff/Hechinger Report
Student employees in Salt Lake City work for corporations as part of the Education at Work initiative. Since EAW began operations in Utah in 2017, about 325 students have received $700,000 in tuition assistance, the organization says.

As for the companies’ largesse, it has an economic motive, says Nicole Smith, chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “These firms are not philanthropists. They’re not doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. They’re actually looking at the bottom line.” 

As employees retire and companies seek to establish brand awareness with a new generation of consumers, businesses such as Microsoft and Discover “want to maintain a strong relationship with that potential flow of workers,” Ms. Smith says.

Benefits for businesses

Discover cites several benefits to employing students through EAW. Typical call-center employees want time off on evenings and weekends; those are times when students are most available to work.

“It works out to be perfect in terms of managing productivity,” says Tracy Hedrick, vice president of Discover’s Phoenix Operations Center where around 300 EAW students are employed through a partnership with Arizona State University. 

As for the quality of the students’ work, Scott Blevins, a senior vice president at EAW says the Salt Lake City office has “one of the highest customer satisfaction results” Microsoft has seen on the consumer side of its business. 

Accustomed to hitting the books daily for their classes, Ms. Hedrick says, students learn faster than traditional call-center employees.

For an age group more at ease typing into a phone than speaking, the EAW experience may help strengthen office skills. In fact, students are expected to leave their phones in lockers before starting their shifts. 

University of Utah student Khiyara Gassaway says working at the Discover call center “definitely helps with your patience when you’re dealing with difficult customers or trying to get that cardmember on the line.”

Kim Raff/Hechinger Report
University of Utah student Khiyara Gassaway works for Discover, calling credit-card holders who are delinquent on their payments.

Her job, like those of other students on the Discover floor, is to call Discover credit-card holders who are delinquent on their payments. The objective is to keep the customers on the line until they can be transferred to a financial specialist.

“This job kind of teaches you the stuff that school doesn’t teach you,” says Sera Ashman, an incoming junior working on the Microsoft floor while she’s studying at the university to become a video game designer. “I’m learning how to work with co-workers, how to work with a client, and meet deadlines.”

Mixed reaction from students  

The work isn’t for everyone. Some students at the university say they didn’t want to commit the time. Others say it doesn’t align with their career goals.

Nick Liddell, a 24-year-old accounting and finance major, works at the business school’s investment fund, where he develops financial models for companies and completes venture capital deals for startups that have a social impact. The position is unpaid, but Mr. Liddell considers it more valuable than “the short-term financial gain” of working at the call center.

Other students say they’ve benefited from their EAW stints. One landed a salaried job at Microsoft. Another, Zachery Gabaldon, says he’s making $17 an hour as a supervisor and is back to the healthy but more expensive vegetarian diet he had to give up while paying for college.

Ms. Hedrick at Discover says the company plans to hire EAW students not only in local customer service roles but also for jobs in business technology, math, or analytics at its Chicago headquarters.

“The relationship is so new we’ve not had really any graduates yet,” says Ms. Hedrick. Nonetheless, she adds, “We’ve got those resumes. We’re circulating them. We want to have some success stories with the recent graduates.”

In Arizona, 35% of the students participating in EAW last year were Hispanic and 15% were black. Ms. Hedrick says she sees an opportunity to “expand the diversity that we have within Discover from this pipeline.”

Mr. Kalapala, the student working tech support in Salt Lake City, credits his EAW job with Microsoft for helping him get a paid internship as a data architect for a large health care provider.

“I am very grateful for the experience,” he says. “This job gave me good leverage.” 

This story about Education at Work was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. 

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Q&A

5. ‘He will eat a half-truth teller alive’: Marianne Williamson takes on Trump

Author and ’90s spiritual guru Marianne Williamson talks with the Monitor about her presidential campaign, and why she thinks there’s a “humanitarian emergency” involving children in the United States.

Yvonne

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Marianne Williamson is a bestselling author and lecturer on spiritual themes – and a Democratic presidential candidate who says she’s qualified to take part in the initial primary debates, which start on June 26. Currently attracting the support of around 1% of Democratic voters in national polls, she calls herself a “radical truth-teller” and says that approach is the only way Democrats will defeat President Donald Trump.

“He will eat a half-truth teller alive in this election,” Ms. Williamson says in an interview. “And the Democrats have been telling half-truths for decades now.” Ms. Williamson is on the left side of the political spectrum, favoring public financing of political campaigns, cuts to military spending, and reparations for the descendants of slaves. Her signature proposal is to create a Department of Peace and a Department of Childhood and Youth to address what she calls a “humanitarian emergency” among children in the U.S.

The following are excerpts from Ms. Williamson’s interview with the Monitor, conducted with Nadine Epstein, editor of the Jewish magazine Moment.

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‘He will eat a half-truth teller alive’: Marianne Williamson takes on Trump

Marianne Williamson wants to take a page out of the Donald Trump playbook and remake American politics – again. And she wants to do it with a healing message of love, she says, not fear.

In 2016, President Trump proved that a political novice with a larger-than-life persona and big ideas could win the White House. Now Ms. Williamson – a bestselling author, activist, and lecturer on spiritual themes – is in the hunt, one of 20 Democratic presidential candidates who say they’ve qualified to take part in the initial primary debates, which begin June 26.

She faces a steep climb to the nomination. A mid-April poll by Change Research showed that 66% of likely Democratic voters do not know her name. A recent Monmouth poll put her support at 1%.

In an interview, Ms. Williamson calls for “an awakening of the American mind” and describes herself as a “radical truth-teller.” That approach to Mr. Trump, she says, is the only way to defeat him.

“The only way to beat big lies is with big truth,” says Ms. Williamson, who shot to fame in the early 1990s when her first book was featured by Oprah Winfrey. “He will eat a half-truth teller alive in this election. And the Democrats have been telling half-truths for decades now, ever since they too started playing footsie under the table with the same corporate forces that are the problem.”

Ms. Williamson has planted herself firmly in the left wing of the Democratic Party. Among her positions, she wants public financing of federal campaigns, cuts to “excessive” military spending, and reparations for the descendants of slaves.

But it’s her focus on the spiritual health of the nation and her signature proposal – creation of a Department of Peace and a Department of Childhood and Youth – that distinguish her candidacy. These cabinet-level agencies would boost U.S. efforts at international and domestic peace-building and address what she calls the “humanitarian emergency” around children in the United States.

Ms. Williamson bristles at the suggestion she’s a long-shot candidate. And, she insists, she’s not new to politics – both literally (she ran for Congress in 2014) and in a larger sense, as she has spent decades focused on how to heal society’s ills. 

“The political establishment has a way of proffering this illusion that they’re the only ones who sit around and think deeply about America,” says Ms. Williamson, whose latest book is called “The Politics of Love: A Handbook for a New American Revolution.”

“Everybody cares about America, and politicians don’t care any more than anybody else does, and they don’t have any better ideas than anybody else does.”

Ms. Williamson is the only Jewish woman in the presidential race, a point of pride for the Texas native. In college, she studied comparative religion and philosophy, and later, at a time of personal challenge, turned to a metaphysical book called “A Course in Miracles.” It is that book that grounds her work, as does her Jewish heritage. She has also read the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy.

The following are excerpts from Ms. Williamson’s interview with the Monitor, conducted with Nadine Epstein, editor of the Jewish magazine Moment.

What is some of the Jewish wisdom that guides you?

Tikkun olam [repair the world], certainly.  Also, I am so moved by the line: “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you permitted to abandon it. Love mercy, do justice, walk humbly.”

What spoke to you about “A Course in Miracles”?

It is a book about universal spiritual themes. My mother had a close friend who was a conservative Christian lady. Anytime anybody did something good, she would say, “Oh, she’s such a good Christian!” One day, my mother couldn’t take it anymore, and said, “What do you think a good Jew is?” All these things this woman was saying, that’s also what a good Jew does. That’s also what a good person does. To be a good person is the core of all the great religious systems.

You speak of the “dichotomy” of American history. What do you mean?

Our country was founded on the most enlightened principles that have ever formed the founding of a nation. And from the beginning, we have been at times the most violent transgressors against those principles. We had slavery, but then we had abolition. We had the suppression of women, but then we had two waves of feminism and the women’s suffragette movement. ... To me, the modern political establishment – the Democrats no less than the Republicans – speaks to people’s self-interest. I’m not saying, “Elect me and I could do this for you.” Politics should be a far more noble conversation. It should be: This is what this generation should do for our unborn great-grandchildren.

Is anger an appropriate tool for political activism?

I’ve likened anger to white sugar. It gives you a high. “I’m angry! I’m going to get Trump!” But you will crash. Political change is a marathon, not a sprint. If all we do is beat Trump, those forces will be back in ’22 and they’ll be back in ’24. We have to do more than save us from the cliff. And that’s a deeper, larger, less sexy job that we’re going to need real nutrition for.

As a woman, what do you bring to leadership? 

It’s not just that I’m a woman. I’m a Texan, I’m a Jew, and I’m 66 years old. If I were president, I would be humane and compassionate and values-based with the use of power. I would not be timid. In politics, you must compromise. But with vision, you should never compromise. And to me, that’s part of leadership.

You refer to a “silent emergency” involving children. What do you mean?

Millions of American children go to classrooms where they do not even have the adequate school supplies with which to teach a child to read. We have elementary school children on suicide watch. Around 13 million American children go to school hungry every day. We have children living in what’s called America’s domestic war zones, where psychologists say the PTSD of returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq is no more severe than the PTSD of these children. These children should be rescued, no differently than if they were the victims of a natural disaster. And what is the political establishment doing, except normalizing their despair?

I want a massive realignment of investment in the direction of children 10 years old and younger. ... It’s not so much how I would exercise power differently than a man, it’s what I want to use power for that is different.

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The Monitor's View

What’s at stake in Hong Kong

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In Hong Kong thousands of protesters facing police tear gas, pepper spray, batons, water hoses, and rubber bullets have claimed a small victory for civil rights. The Legislative Council there has agreed for now to stop considering a controversial bill that would allow Hong Kong residents and visitors to be extradited to China for trial.

China’s legal system is notoriously secretive and often brutal, showing little regard for human rights. Hong Kong’s 7 million residents know they have real reason to worry that they could be denied trial in Hong Kong’s relatively well-regarded judicial system and whisked away to the mainland for almost certain conviction.

Protesters realize that this may be their last chance to speak freely if the extradition law goes into effect. “This is the last fight for Hong Kong,” one activist told The Wall Street Journal. “The proposal is the most dangerous threat to our freedoms and way of life since the handover.”

The large and vigorous protest seems to have surprised authorities and temporarily stopped the extradition measure from becoming law. It is also highlighting to the world the low esteem in which China’s judicial system is held.

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What’s at stake in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong thousands of protesters facing police tear gas, pepper spray, batons, water hoses, and rubber bullets have claimed a small victory for civil rights. The Legislative Council there has agreed for now to stop considering a controversial bill that would allow Hong Kong residents and visitors to be extradited to China for trial.

When Britain agreed to return its former colony to China in 1997 it negotiated a “one country, two systems” arrangement permitting Hong Kong to be a semi-autonomous region that would keep its form of government, including British common law, until 2047. 

But Chinese President Xi Jinping appears eager to shorten that transition and has been consistently pressuring Hong Kong to fall into line with the rest of the country.

China’s legal system is notoriously secretive and often brutal, showing little regard for human rights. Earlier this week a court in New Zealand refused to allow the extradition of a South Korean man wanted by China for the alleged murder of a woman in Shanghai in 2009. The court cited the use of torture in China to obtain confessions.

Hong Kong’s 7 million residents know they have real reason to worry that they could be denied trial in Hong Kong’s relatively well-regarded judicial system and whisked away to the mainland for almost certain conviction.

An earlier protest Sunday brought, by some estimates, a million people into the streets, making it perhaps the largest public demonstration since 1997. Small businesses have closed in protest and unions have urged members to join the resistance.

Protesters realize that this may be their last chance to speak freely if the extradition law goes into effect. “We have to stand up for our rights or they will be taken away,” one young protester told The Associated Press. “This is the last fight for Hong Kong,” a pioneering democracy activist told The Wall Street Journal. “The proposal is the most dangerous threat to our freedoms and way of life since the handover.”

Hong Kong residents have protested before. In 2003 Hong Kong’s leadership introduced a security bill similar to one used in China to charge political dissidents with crimes. Street protests eventually caused the proposal to not be enacted. In 2014 a protest known by some as the Umbrella Revolution (marked by the yellow umbrellas protesters used to protect themselves from police pepper spray) continued for more than two months but ultimately didn’t stop a new requirement that Hong Kong’s chief executive, while popularly elected, must be a candidate approved by Beijing.

The size of the current protest and determination of the protesters may have surprised authorities and seem to have temporarily stopped the extradition measure from becoming law. The protest is also highlighting to the world the low esteem in which China’s judicial system is held.

China may ban any public mention of its Tiananmen Square protests 30 years ago. But Hong Kong is showing that the desire for basic civil liberties still lives on.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Building harmonious relationships

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Community is a vital aspect of life, as an article in today’s Monitor Daily indicates, speaking to the growing trend of group living. Here’s a spiritual take on nurturing harmony in one’s community, inspired by an individual’s experiences of living at the same place where she worked.

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Building harmonious relationships

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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It’s heartening to see how important community is to people in the midst of so much division and polarity around the world. One example that the May 20 Monitor Daily pointed out was the very effective community support of an immigrant Honduran student “as he moved from starting school unable to speak English to graduating with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a great job.” And an article in today’s Daily points to the growing trend of group living as a way to find community.

Several different times in my life, I lived at the place where I worked. This was my local community, so to speak. Frankly, relationships were really hard sometimes. But I also found that harmony – which is so necessary in a healthy community – is possible, and that the unifying power of divine Spirit, God, is a powerful basis for building and maintaining harmonious relationships.

For a period of time in one living/working community, I was working directly with someone that I found difficult to be around. I felt a little intimidated by this person and never felt as though I did things the “right way” around her. In this particular situation, our being from different countries and cultures seemed to aggravate the situation. I began to dread our time together.

I was not at home with this feeling of dread. My study and prayer in Christian Science had showed me over and over that I could feel unity with others. I’d learned that like rays of light that individually reflect all the properties of the sun, we all come from God, divine Spirit and Love, our true source. And we uniquely express the spiritual beauty, purity, and sweetness of the divine nature.

I knew that praying with these ideas would help me again in this situation. Yet my desire to establish a harmonious relationship in this situation was not just for me but for others. I wanted to contribute to peace and goodwill – and yes, even healing – in this community at large. I saw it as practicing the fundamental element of Christ Jesus’ teachings to love one’s neighbor as oneself (see Matthew 19:19).

The discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote in the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “As a drop of water is one with the ocean, a ray of light one with the sun, even so God and man, Father and son, are one in being. The Scripture reads: ‘For in Him we live, and move, and have our being’ ” (p. 361).

My prayers were motivated by an effort to understand that this was the spiritual fact about me as well as this woman, and that because of our unity with God, we were united with one another. Behind our work, which involved serving others for a greater good, was the spiritual reality that we are the children of God, each made in His likeness, created to express harmony and selflessness.

As I considered these ideas, I began to notice and appreciate what a lovely sense of order and beauty this woman had. Although I felt I would have done some things differently than she did, the way I responded to that changed. Instead of making mental notes about and dwelling on those discrepancies, I saw her compassion and generosity toward others. We began to share experiences we’d had in different countries, appreciating the variety that our diverse backgrounds offered. As the months went on, I came to feel a genuine spirit of affection for this woman.

Isn’t that the way we want to feel toward those we are involved with in whatever community we are a part of? I was so grateful for this change that came about in my thinking and experience, but I especially cherished that deeper sense I was feeling of living in unity with a shared divine goodness that governs all of us.

I love the way the Good News Translation of the Bible puts these words from Psalms: “How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony!” (133:1). We can start going forward today with one uncritical thought and one open-hearted, God-inspired step at a time, and find that building cooperative and amicable relationships and communities is not only possible, but natural.

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Viewfinder

Rowboat parking

Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters
Boats used to carry passengers across the river are anchored on the bank of the river Buriganga in Dhaka, Bangladesh, June 12.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( June 13th, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow, when we will answer the question: Who is the most streamed classical composer of all time? Hint: It’s not Beethoven. Or Mozart.

Monitor Daily Podcast

June 12, 2019
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