Fierce

She’s Running: Sandra Sepulveda Could Be The First Latina On The Nashville Metro Council

Anne Tenkhoff

She’s Running is a FIERCE series highlighting Latinas running for office in local, state and federal elections.

Growing up, Sandra Sepulveda wasn’t dreaming about becoming the first woman president or introducing legislation as a state lawmaker. When she studied political science in college, she wasn’t visualizing herself campaigning for elected office. But this year, looking around her community and seeing how much it had been ignored, she did the previously-unimaginable: put her hat in the ring for Nashville Metro Council.

“I’ve been here for 20 years. I’m invested in this community. I’m running because of my neighbors. They’re my people,” the 25-year-old first-time candidate told FIERCE.

Born in Riverside, Calif. and raised in Nashville, Sepulveda spent most of her life in the district she wants to represent. She studied at its public schools, shopped at its supermarkets and dined at its mom-and-pop establishments. She also spent days without running water or light, didn’t have access to a local library and saw the struggle it was to get around without a reliable vehicle.

As a majority-minority district, the Mexican-American contender’s side of Nashville isn’t what’s portrayed in popular media. Here, there are no parks, no libraries and no community centers, despite its low-income residents needing these services and resources.

This is why she’s running.

We chatted with Sepulveda about making the difficult decision to run for office, what she hopes to do for her district, what serving her community would mean for her, the need for young voices and fresh ideas in politics and much more.

FIERCE: Why did you decide to run for Nashville Metro Council?

Sandra Sepulveda: I never thought I was going to run for office. That was never in my plan. But I started looking at my community, and I felt like we have been ignored for so long. My part of Nashville is a very diverse district; it’s a majority-minority district, and if you look at other parts of the city, they have more resources than we do. We are the only one that doesn’t have a community center, library or park. There also aren’t many sidewalks. There are a lot of people that live below the poverty line. I couldn’t sit back. I wanted someone who understood where the district was and who the people are, someone who could really represent them. That’s something that is important to me. I’ve been here for 20 years. I’m invested in this community. I’m running because of my neighbors. They’re my people.

FIERCE: I know that your priorities are tackling infrastructure, transit, public safety and education. Why are these issues currently crucial to your district?

Sandra Sepulveda: Like I said, a lot of people in my district live below the poverty line and rely on public transportation. I’ve been knocking on doors, and I’ve learned that people can’t get to stops safely because there are no sidewalks. They run the possibility of getting run over while walking to bus stops. That being said, we don’t have that many bus stops or bus shelters here. People who do use public transportation have to walk on the edge of the road to get there and don’t even have a bus shelter if it’s raining. We need simple things like this: sidewalks, bus shelters, more bus routes. It doesn’t even have to be that hard. A little could change a lot for us here.

FIERCE: During a talk you gave at a recent event, you said “there’s a voice in District 30 that has been ignored for far too long” and that you want to “amplify this voice.” How do you intend on doing this on metro council?

Sandra Sepulveda: What that would mean is I would have more town hall meetings to hear what the people want and need at this point. I would require a lot of input on them. Our district needs different things than others, so I would sit down with them regularly, just as I have been now that I’m running. I’ve been giving out my cell phone number in case people have questions or concerns. It’s putting the community first.

FIERCE: In that same talk, you said that District 30 is the only one in Nashville that doesn’t have a community center, library or public park. That’s astounding. What does a community lose when it does not have these local services?

Sandra Sepulveda: It’s something that boggles my mind. Kids are coming back from school and they don’t have access to the Internet, so they have to drive to a library in another district to do research on a computer for homework. Parents have to do the same to apply for jobs. We need a community center, where the community can meet, for kids to have a safe place to play. We don’t have a park. A lot of the kids are riding bikes on the street, because there’s no sidewalk. They risk something dangerous happening to them just for wanting to play. Some are lucky and have backyards, but not all do. What about the kids who live in apartments? We need these resources.

FIERCE: As a working-class woman, Latina and young person, what do you think these identities, and the perspectives and experiences that come with them, can bring to Nashville Metro Council that is new or needed?

Sandra Sepulveda: I didn’t have a lot of money growing up, that’s a fact. Sometimes, I’d come home and the water or light would be shut off because my family couldn’t pay it on time. A lot of people in Nashville are struggling, hardworking people. I know what that’s like. I know where they’re coming from. I would be able to represent them. With the cost of living going way up in Nashville, some people are getting left behind, and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen. As a Latina, I’d also be the first Hispanic woman elected to the metro council. There’s a man, but I’d be the first woman. Our community is growing so quickly here in Nashville. We are opening so many businesses and becoming such a big part of Nashville. I think it would be great to have more people that could represent them, and I want to be able to do that.

FIERCE: Of course, you are much more than your identities. You are the operations director for the Tennessee Democratic Party and studied history and political science in college. How do you think these experiences and the skills you’ve gained through them prepared you for this office?

Sandra Sepulveda: Back in college, I interned for two political campaigns. I know what the field work of it looks like, how to run a campaign. In my last semester of college, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life when someone from that internship, from that campaign, called me and asked if I wanted to work at the party after I graduated. I immediately jumped on it. I’ve been here for almost four years. I’ve done a lot of the day to day making sure the office is running smoothly. Now, I’m also doing the fundraising work. I look at the budget and work with the executive director.  I look at fundraising goals and plan actions for income. I’m not completely new to many of these things. I might be 25, but I’ve been doing this for a couple years. Also, we have to make sure we are training the next leaders, to include them. I hope that people wouldn’t be counting me out because of my age. There’s a willingness to learn and listen from young people.

FIERCE: It’s often said that the biggest and most effective change is done locally. What are you prepared to do or work on locally to combat the policy and rhetoric coming out of the White House?

Sandra Sepulveda: A lot of what I’d be doing on the council is more local, but there is one thing the current federal government is doing that affects the people of Nashville that I could help. The Trump administration’s voucher plan would hurt us. Our public schools aren’t getting the funding they deserve. I went to metro public school here from kindergarten to high school. I remember a time where multiple classrooms shared one book. We didn’t have funding. It’s stuff like that that I want to make sure someone is paying attention to. I lived that firsthand and know what it’s like to not have many resources for you in public schools. Teachers work so hard, and they need to be compensated the way they deserve. I feel many metro public employees are not getting the attention they need and deserve. So that’s one thing that would affect us on a local level being pushed at the federal level.

FIERCE: You’ve lived in District 30 in Southeast Nashville for 20 years. You were raised here, went to public school here, worked here. What would it mean to you to represent the city and people who helped make Sandra Sepulveda?

Sandra Sepulveda: Oh man! It means a lot to me. I grew up here, and it would mean so much to give back to the community that made me the person I am. I want to make sure I do right by them. I know a lot of people say what you want to hear. That’s not me. I want to make sure I put them before anything else. This is not about me. At the end of the day, it’s about them and that they’re taken care of. Come August 1, my mom, who is an immigrant and came here when she was 14 years old, is going to walk into the voting booth and see my name, our last name. That’s something I never thought of, something she never thought would happen. So I want to make sure I do right by her and the people of District 30. It’s big, really big, and I’m trying not to cry right now.

FIERCE: Wow, yeah, I feel that! As a first-time candidate, I think you can offer a lot to young Latinas who aspire to run for office. Do you have a message for Latinas with political dreams but perhaps see those as unfeasible?

Sandra Sepulveda: Get involved, get involved right now. We need so much help in politics. We need volunteers, people who know the issues and are passionate about the issues. We need all the hands we can get right now. If there are any young people that look at me and see themselves, the best thing to do is get involved. Start right now. Don’t wait. You can’t wait.

Read: She’s Running: Social Justice Leader Erika Almirón Is Ready To Represent Philadelphia’s Most Marginalized In Public Office

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Some People Claim This Sandy Hook PSA Has Gone “Too Far” In Illustrating the Impact of School Shootings

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Some People Claim This Sandy Hook PSA Has Gone “Too Far” In Illustrating the Impact of School Shootings

We’ve come to the point in American history where deaths due to gun violence have become what many would call a crisis. According to data collected by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017, guns were responsible for more deaths than car accidents were. So it comes to no surprise when certain activists take it upon themselves to bring attention to what many label an epidemic. On Wednesday, the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, a non-profit organization founded with the goal of “protecting children from gun violence with programs that work”, did just that. The NPO released a short video, titled “Back-To-School-Essentials” that made waves through the internet.

The video begins exactly the way so many back-to-school commercials start: discussing the coolest new gadgets to buy for your kids this Fall.

Sandy Hook Promise / Youtube.com

A smiling boy pulls a backpack out of a locker, bragging that his mom got him the “perfect bag for back to school”. A young girl shows off the colorful binders that are “just what she needs to help her stay organized” for the school year. But things take an odd turn with the third student. As the student describes his headphones as “just what [he] needs for studying”, we can see that not all is quite right in the background. As the boy listens to his music, oblivious, we see students running in the behind him, appearing to be panicked.

As the commercial wears on, it becomes even eerier when students are speaking carefree to the camera while scenes of carnage unfold around them. The commercial wears on with each scenario becoming eerier: a girl uses her sweater to bar a door shut, keeping an active shooter out of the gymnasium. A different student uses her new socks as a tourniquet to keep a bleeding student alive. The video ends on a chilling note: a young girl hides in a bathroom stall, tears running down her face. The camera closes up on her as we hear an active shooter enter the bathroom. “I love you, Mom,” she types into her phone.

The video ends with a simple title-card over a black screen: “School shooting is preventable when you know the signs.”

Sandy Hook Promise / Youtube.com

The PSA then directs the viewer to find out more about the organization at sandyhookpromise.org. According to Sandy Hook Promise’s About page, the “above-the-politics” organization is made up of “several family members whose loved ones were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012”. Their mission is to “honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation”. Their main action-items are to target mental health programs to individuals who are “at-risk” at engaging in gun violence and by advocating for policy changes in order to prevent school shootings. 

As of now, the video has racked up over 1 million views on YouTube in under 24 hours.

The virality of the PSA is likely due to its execution: we’re all used to seeing vacuous back-to-school commercials whose sole intentions are to sell us something. “Back-To-School Essentials” lulls us into a sense of comfort with its upbeat music before jerking us into the current violent reality of school-aged students’ lives. According to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks every mass shooting in the country, the US has had 283 mass shootings since September 1st of 2019. 

The video isn’t without controversy–some Twitter users are disturbed by how close to home the video’s scenarios are.

In fact, many viewers are finding the PSA hard to watch. On Twitter, users are complaining of tearing up after watching the video. Some even claim to “feeling sick” by the video’s contents. 

In response, some Twitter users are glad of the reality-check the PSA is providing:

It’s evident that making their audience uncomfortable from watching the video was one of the organization’s goals. That way, it makes it harder to ignore the reality of school shootings and their impact on children’s lives.

This woman explained how the video hit a little too close to home:

It seems we’ve come to the point in our culture where we feel we need to buy phones for our children in the event that they experience a school shooting. 

This Twitter user applauded the Sandy Hook Promise Organization’s bravery in committing to their message:

Sometimes the only way to get your point across is to explain, in the starkest terms possible, how dire the situation is. This video managed to convey that in a powerful way.

This Latina was effected by the PSA on a visceral level:

Reactions like this prove that public service announcements, when done right, can achieve exactly what they set out to achieve.

Simply from the Twitter reaction, it’s clear that this video has touched a lot of people.

To learn more about Sandy Hook Promise and its mission to prevent gun violence, visit www.sandyhookpromise.org.

An Incoming International Harvard Student Has Been Denied Entry To The United States

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An Incoming International Harvard Student Has Been Denied Entry To The United States

Cengiz Yar / Getty Images

The Trump administration’s immigration policies are criminalizing survivors, tearing families apart and emboldening racists and xenophobes throughout the country. But President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration agenda is also negatively impacting higher education in the US. According to multiple recent reports, it has become increasingly difficult for international students to receive their visas, also adding a greater workload on universities and their employees who try to help students work through the red tape and advocate on their behalf.

Those in higher education and immigration law say that the process for international students to attain their visas have become harder under Trump.

 According to government data, approval of student visas is down and many remain in limbo for longer periods. The latest available department data show that student visas declined by more than 100 thousand from 2016 to 2018. This has led to an overall decrease in the number of new international students enrolled at US colleges. For instance, survey data collected by the Institute of International Education during the 2016–17 school year found that enrollment of international students fell by 3 percent from the previous year. In the most recent data, which looks at the 2017–18 school year, it fell by close to 7 percent.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators reports that these visa obstacles started after Trump issued a memorandum in 2017 that called for the “heightened screening and vetting of applications for visas and other immigration benefits” as well as new or updated requirements for visa holders studying or working at US colleges. Additionally, the Atlantic reports that changes initiated by the Trump administration in 2018 made it even harder for recent graduates with student visas to continue living in the country legally. 

“I’ve been in the field for almost 20 years, and the amount of immigration changes during the last three years has been exponential,” Kristy Magner, who oversees Tulane University’s Office of International Students and Scholars, told the publication. 

One of the most high-profile cases was that of Ismail B. Ajjawi

In August of 2019, the incoming Harvard Palestinian freshman from Lebanon was detained by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a Boston airport. The 17-year-old was denied entry after CBO officers found social media posts from his friends that criticize the US. As a result, Ajjawi’s visa was canceled. However, because the teen was detained at an airport, sparing him from being officially deported, he was able to re-apply for a visa back home. Ten days later, Ajjawi returned to Boston and was able to start school.

Also in August, nine Chinese students who were returning to the US as undergraduate students at Arizona State University were detained at Los Angeles International Airport.

 According to the university, the students were in CBP custody for a week and were “denied admission to the U.S. to continue their studies.” They were ultimately forced to return to China, despite being “academically eligible to return to ASU and to the United States under their visas.”

“[I]t is beyond my comprehension how the U.S. government could establish and implement policies that bring about the outcomes we are now witnessing,” ASU president Michael Crow wrote in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. 

While these cases are among the most extreme, they follow a growing pattern of increased difficulty for international students. 

Many institutions, including New York University, expressed seeing more students denied travel in advance of their trips.

NYU was one of the first schools to establish support for immigrant students upon the start of Trump’s presidency. In January 2017, just days after Trump’s inauguration, it created the Immigrant Defense Initiative, which offers “free, confidential advice and representation” to students and staff who could be at risk for deportation. Other universities, including Columbia University, the California State University system and George Washington University, now also offer free immigration-related legal services for students. 

But students, and now university employees who are tasked with new responsibilities in helping the international academics, need more help. Back in July, Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow sent a letter to Pompeo and McAleenan sharing his grievances. “Students report difficulties getting initial visas — from delays to denials,” he wrote. “Scholars have experienced postponements and disruptions for what have previously been routine immigra­tion processes such as family visas, renewals of status, or clearance for international travel.”

Dr. Hironao Okahana, associate vice president of policy and research analysis at the Council of Graduate Schools, told Teen Vogue the rise in incidents like Ajjawi’s are concerning and worth further investigation. 

“[W]e’ll be carefully observing to see if any additional incidents occur as quarter-system schools begin their term in a few weeks,” he said.

In addition to the denial of visas and slowed-down processes, universities face another problem: Trump’s anti-immigration agenda is stopping international students from applying to US institutions. 

“I think that both [the Trump administration’s] immigration policy and the messaging of the day are literally turning [international] students away … and making them less inclined to want to study in the United States,” Brian Rosenberg, the president of Macalester College, a liberal-arts institution in St. Paul, Minnesota, told the Atlantic.

As a result, some schools are doing additional work to ensure international students that they are welcome at their universities.

Philip A. Glotzbach, the president of Skidmore College, told the Atlantic that his staff has had to “work a lot harder” to recruit and retain international students. Additionally, Barbara K. Altmann, the president of Franklin & Marshall College, said that her school has been taking “extraordinary measures … so international students know [they’re welcome here].” For instance, because one in five students at the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, liberal-arts school is from outside of the US, mostly China, it has created a network of Chinese nationals that send reassuring messages to incoming students from the Asian country. 

“These incidents,” said Okahana, “as isolated as they may be, are troubling and have created chilling effects.”

Read: Migrants Are Dying In US Immigration Custody And Here’s What You Need To Know About The Victims