Okay, I will admit it: I am never shy to express my opinion, or to hold beliefs. I love to engage with others on issues of topical relevance, and I love to hear other people’s thoughts and views on said issues. I personally enjoy engaging in off-hand discussions and debates with friends, classmates and strangers alike. Seeing people become animated whilst discussing a topic is a joy to behold. Talking, debating, respecting and challenging differing views: it brings conversation to life. It would be a dull and boring world if we all agreed with one another, and offered no contrasting opinion.
More importantly, I firmly believe that we all, each and every one of us, have a voice which deserves to be heard. Whether you feel strongly about politics, social issues, international topics, or even about the local plans to build a huge pig farm on an industrial scale, if you have an opinion and equally have a desire to articulate your views, you are entitled to do so. Never forget the impact that a voice may have, even if you feel you are outnumbered.
And, of course, we cannot deny the role that passion and belief play in our lives. Even the most shy person can have a loud voice, transformed as they are when they speak about a topic close to their heart. That passion can readily be converted into activism, if you believe change is needed and you wish to be part of a force that campaigns for it.
I feel that activism has become a ‘dirty word’ these days. It appears to have become a taboo in some quarters, because it tends to challenge the accepted status quo in society. People will ask, why can that group of protesters not just be happy with what we have? Why must they hold rallies, distribute leaflets and promote their messages on social media? But herein lies the problem. What is good for one citizen may not be beneficial to another. Prejudice, discrimination and inequality are sadly too prevalent today. So no, we cannot be happy with what we have, not when there are members of our society left feeling stigmatised, or who may be denied full equality in terms of opportunities and rights.
Activism to me simply means taking action to promote change via a collective effort. It is about the involvement of those with similar thoughts and aims, working together to achieve those aims in the hopes of a positive change. And it is with this in mind that I am excited to participate in the Campaign SU programme devised by my university’s SU.
Campaign SU is a year long programme that seeks to provide interested and driven students with the knowledge and power needed to start campaigning on the changes they wish to see happen. Students can choose to join one of four issues that they are most passionate about, and work with other students and mentors to organise priority campaigns on campus. The four issues for this year are Environment, LGBT+ Rights, Women’s Rights and Student Cuts.
After a long time debating which movement to join, I have opted to join the latter, the Student Cuts movement. This is because I care deeply about the role of education in Northern Ireland, and believe that third-level education in particular needs to be protected – it is not a place for the elite, but should be affordable and accessible to all interested and able students. And as a working-class student, I would never have been able to attend university were it not for the Student Loans Company and maintenance grants for make this opportunity financially accessible. Moreover, I would never have been able to have had the wonderful and enriching experience at university were it not for societal change to challenge university elitism, and thus welcome the attendance of working-class students. My mother was the first in her family to attend university, and has told me stories of how as a young undergraduate, she was made to feel unwelcome by a minority of her peers because of her working-class background. To me, the battle over student cuts in Northern Ireland is the next step in that story, as further cuts and higher fees will deter students from backgrounds such as mine from considering university.
Student activism is not something to be feared, rather it is something to celebrate. Young people working together to bring about social change that benefits all members of society should be encouraged, not ridiculed. So I am delighted to see that my university’s SU is directly providing a platform to encourage student activism, and to provide training in same for all interested students. I cannot wait to attend the launch of the programme tonight at 6:00PM in the SU when we will hear from Eamonn McCann, a local and long-time political activist and journalist.
Student activism is essentially student empowerment in my eyes, as we campaign to change society for the better, and to benefit subsequent generations. We may be students, but we still have a voice, and the desire to use it. What’s not to love about that?
I will keep you updated about the Campaign SU programme in future blog posts, and in particular the Student Cuts team and platform on campus.