Getting Your Voice Heard at University
University years are a great time to get involved in causes you feel strongly about. For the student activists featured here, that means campaigning on environmental issues - but their advice applies to all budding student activists, whether battling climate change or championing human rights.
Louise Hazan is the climate change campaigns and communications manager at People and Planet, a network of UK students.
Find strength in numbers. Collective action is key to making your voice heard loud and clear. See if there’s a campaigning group on your campus, and meet new people at national student activism events. Also, don't forget that staff care about the environment and can be your allies too!
Know your stuff. It’s important to get clued up on the facts before starting any campaign. Find out what areas your university’s eco-credentials are lacking in, and target your efforts towards the most important issues. You'll also need the latest in campaigning and activism skills – so get along to a training workshop on how to organize a media stunt or protest strategically.
Keep it fun. People don’t like to be preached at, so the best student campaigns are engaging, fun and reach people where they’re at. Eye-catching stunts, creative props, street theatre, free food and social events are all great ways to get people interested in an issue they might not otherwise consider.
For example, students at the University of East Anglia in the UK got nearly naked to highlight the plight of sweatshop workers, and students at more than 140 universities and colleges organized ‘green’ stunts to encourage fellow staff and students to ‘Go Green’ recently.
Jarred Sferruzzi graduated in 2010, with a bachelor of arts focusing on sociology, philosophy and Australian studies. He is a leading member of the Australian Student Environment Network (ASEN).
Environmental activism in universities has never been as important or necessary as it is right now. The threats presented by climate change, peak oil, water scarcity, corporate-controlled food supplies and dangerous mining practices are all increasing.
Many universities have not only been complacent in their approach to these crises, but often implicit in contributing to the problems. For example, universities may support research that contributes to environmentally harmful practices, such as the growth of the coal seam gas industry.
If you want to help with any of the issues mentioned above or any other environmental concerns, seek out your local environmental collective on campus. If there isn’t one, contact a national network, such as ASEN, for advice on establishing one.
Siddhant Sadangi is in the first year of a bachelor of technology at KIIT University in India. He’s the founder of the GreenGaians environmental group, a researcher for the Awareness Program for Eco-friendly Commodities, and contributes to the Youth Leader Global project.
Environmentalism isn't just about marches and eye-catching stunts. You can also contribute as a writer, a dramatist, a researcher and so on. It’s really about leading by example, by doing what you think is the right thing to do. Once you do good, others will follow.
Remember that this road is not easy to follow; there will be many setbacks. But don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t do something.
Look around yourself. Find that thing that inspires you – something that you are passionate about, something that moves you, something that you would like to change – because that is your dream and only you can turn it into reality.
Never let go of your idealism. Trust in your imagination and allow your passions to guide you towards the realization of your dreams. Imagination, plus passion, plus courage is the formula for success in any endeavour.
Coy McKinney is studying law at the University of the District of Columbia in the US, and is a member of the Student Environmental Action Coalition.
Be hopeful. At times we all feel dissuaded, but it’s important to remember that each decision and act we make helps to create our reality. The structures that surround us and the society we live in are the direct result of people acting out their hopes and ideas.
Study history. By studying and recognizing the patterns of the past, activists will have a better understanding of the society they currently live in, and how they can improve it.
Choose a cause you’re passionate about. Challenging the status quo is an uphill battle. For this reason it’s important to choose causes that fully resonate with you, so the passion you feel cannot be subdued.
From the examples of these four young activists, it seems like a combination of passion and pragmatism is the recipe for success - along with some creativity and collaboration. Feeling inspired? Get out there and make your voice heard!
This article was originally published in October 2012 . It was last updated in January 2020