Op-ed: Build coalitions for social justice through student orgs

Sunday, March 31, 2019 - 5:10pm

In the fall of 2016 at the University of Michigan, a chapter of HeForShe, a gender equality solidarity movement, was formed. Over this past summer, a HeForShe member was venting their frustrations about the University of Michigan’s response to Richard Spencer’s visit to a University employee. The employee told them something that HeForShe believes should frame our approach to activism work on campus: “Students can be frantic and the University can be hesitant.”

As we have seen, the University's student body has been increasingly at odds with University officials and the administration. Protests have shut down the bus systems and filled the Fleming Administration Building, teach-outs are highly attended and student activists across campus are at a loss for how to get the University to listen to them and understand their needs.

HeForShe also attributes the University’s reluctant responses to a lack of cohesion among social justice activism groups on campus. There are more than 1,500 student organizations on Maize Pages. Filtered down by the “activism” category, 365 organizations still show up. The point being: There are a lot of student activists and activism groups at the University of Michigan.

This is a great thing and it proves that there are thousands of us on campus who are willing to fight for what we believe in. What HeForShe wonders is how can we work together to achieve our goals. Social justice orgs seem to compete for attendance at events, attention of the administration and campus resources like rooms and funding. How can we reach social justice on our campus when individual organizations seem to be yelling into a void, drowned out by the sheer volume of clubs?

When we fight for social justice, we are not doing so to beat down other social justice organizations. There should not be any competition when we are fighting for the same goals. As an activism organization, HeForShe hopes to build a coalition of student activists and student activism organizations because so much more can happen if we pool our ideas and resources together. We all strive for similar goals: Equality and justice.

There are measures being taken. The Central Student Government liaison program is a new initiative designed “to provide a platform for students and their organizations to externally address possible issues within their groups. It also aims to foster a greater connection between campus organizations.” HeForShe was one of the first social justice organizations to be a part of the program and we highly encourage other organizations to get involved.

In order to build this coalition for social justice on our campus, HeForShe is taking the first step: reaching out. We are embarking on a listening tour and we want to meet all gender equality-related student organizations to form a relationship. We want to know who is on their executive board, what their mission statement is, what events they are are hosting and how we can work together to achieve gender equality on our campus.

To do this, we ask that student organizations that deal with gender equality (even tangentially) attend the first ever student organization summit dedicated to coalition building. The event is called “The State of Gender Equality Orgs at U-M: Student Org Summit” and it will be held Tuesday, April 2 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery (Room 100). For more information, find the event on Facebook.

As students cycle in and out of the University at the close of the winter 2019 semester, HeForShe invites you to think about the future. What can we be doing now for the students who will come after us?

Meghan Brody is a senior in LSA and the outgoing president of HeForShe. They can be reached at megbrody@umich.edu.