It is rather funny how experiences can change you as a person. You can be interested in issues, be passionate about causes, and desire to see genuine change. Maybe you undergo an experience, or suffer from an illness which gives you a fresh perspective. You want to raise awareness and tell your story.
But maybe you feel scared about speaking out. You feel that you will not be listened to, or understood. At worse, you will be laughed at, or too readily dismissed.
Or perhaps you think that the time to sit on the sidelines is up, and it is time to step forward and challenge the status quo on your own terms.
I have always been passionate about activism, and advocacy. I have volunteered, undertaken campaigns and training across various subjects over the years, because I always want to ensure people feel safe, respected and empowered. But I suppose I forgot to do the same for myself. It was not until I went to America for a year that I increased my confidence and independence, and realised that instead of shying away from my personal experiences, they could be used to help others in similar situations. I realised I truly do believe in working together to overcome problems and tackle issues.
Which brings me to the subject of this blog post.
This time last year, I was the sole Northern Irish student on an American college campus, fighting through Midwestern snow banks from classes and meetings. I juggled sorority membership, a legal internship, student organisations and volunteering in a new culture and country. It was a fabulous experience, and thoroughly eye-opening. When in my dorm room, I was watching and following political campaigns from back home in the lead up to the Westminster elections.
Now I can announce I am to participate in my own campaign this year -hopefully without snow. I am excited to announce my candidacy to become the next VP Equality and Diversity for QUBSU, as part of the REUNION ticket of fellow committed activists seeking positive change for all students.
When I arrived at QUB as a first year Law student back in 2012, I did not know what would be in store for me. I soon found myself undertaking mental health awareness training, working with younger students, tutoring primary school children and running voluntary campaigns. It was rewarding, it was enriching, and it felt amazing to say that I was able to help others.
In time, I was studying abroad in the US. As an international student, I became a mental health activist, consent awareness raiser and human rights advocate, whilst also being empowered through my AOII sisters. I finally felt proud to be a woman, and proud to be a committed activist in promoting respect, empowerment and acceptance for all my fellow students.
Yet upon my return to QUB this year, I saw how the university I love was becoming more business-focused and money-orientated, much to the detriment of students. But I also saw how the SU was seeking to oppose such rhetoric and practice by becoming a passionate hub of student activism. I thus joined other committed activists in order to defend fundamental rights and freedoms of all students through protesting against the cuts levied at QUB. I desire to ensure this platform of activism and empowerment continues, existing to serve students both present and future.
As a working-class female student, I want to ensure the opportunities and education afforded to me continues to exist for all. I desire an inclusive campus, and a shared, accepting learning environment free from prejudice.
So I believe that it is time to make QUB the university all students deserve, and it is time for a reunion of students to unite in the face of increased tuition fees.
I’m Leah, a final year Law student and past Study USA adventurer, and I am standing to become the next Student Officer for Equality and Diversity at QUBSU. I believe in, and desire to see, Respect, Empowerment and Action at my university. I am therefore excited to run with the dedicated team of fellow activists and campaigners with whom I share the same passion and interests.
It is going to be a long couple of weeks of canvassing and campaigning. But I am nothing if not determined. I have issues to raise, and topics to raise awareness of. No matter the ultimate outcome of the campaign, I know that I will try my hardest and do my best, and ensure the issues I care deeply about are raised and acknowledged.
Let’s do this.