Rise Up

College Students Could Lead a New Age of Activism

Curious about where to get involved and take action in between classes? Here are some student-led advocacy groups that will help you get started.
September 28, 2017, 9:00pm
Image via Flickr user Fibonacci Blue.

This year sparked a wave of activism the likes of which the U.S. hasn't seen in decades. A surge of mass protests swept across the country, starting with the Women's March in January, to protesting the alt-right after the violence in Charlottesville. As students across the country have settled in for the start of the new semester, they could continue that surge with on-campus activism. We're likely to see an active 2017-2018.

Whether it's assisting refugees with their rights to helping sex workers with legal papers, here are some of the most socially active student organizations around the country.

1. Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children -- Harvard University

Since its founding in 2003, the

Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children

at Harvard University has helped bring better healthcare to developing countries. They've set up medical clinics in countries like

Colombia and Costa Rica

and students help fundraise for them by organizing drives to keep the clinics stocked with medical supplies.

It features over 3,000 volunteers and staff members globally, many of whom are students that help out during spring and summer breaks. The students have travelled to help provide medical insurance for women and children for Nicaraguan refugees in Costa Rica. They also monitor patients for ailments like HIV, gastrointestinal infections and malnutrition, as there isn't any clean water in certain areas and widespread illnesses are common.

The students also work to lobby with decision makers on behalf of their patients and help develop health and education programs in the clinics.

2. The Partnership for Advancement of Refugee Rights -- University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is home to the Partnership for Advancement of Refugee Rights and International Social Welfare. Founded in 2008, it provides students with the opportunity to connect with refugees in Chicago and help them with food vouchers and health care.

Students currently working with Syrian refugees also partner with local organizations like World Relief Chicago, Pan African Association and RefugeeOne. Their goal is to raise awareness of the issues refugees face across the globe, whether it's learning English or learning new professional skills.

They've also worked to get students involved with "Letters to Jordan," a mentorship initiative which connects university students with teen refugees in Amman.

3. The Women in Public Policy Initiative -- Georgetown University

To help foster women leaders, the Women in Public Policy Initiative at Georgetown University is an advocacy organization focused on the future for women in American politics.

Whether it's closing the gender wage gap or fighting for family-friendly policies, they put on events like power women career panels, networking lunches and speaking sessions with women who worked on the campaign trail.

They've featured talks with Kate Black, the chief of staff at Emily's List, an action committee that helps elect pro-choice female candidates into office, and Sarah Dachos, a military veteran who runs the DC chapter for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun violence prevention organization which lobbies for gun reforms.


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4. The Incarceration Taskforce -- Bennington College

The Incarceration Taskforce, which was founded in 2014, has a goal of lowering incarceration intake. It's part of a larger initiative called Incarceration in America, which is part-curriculum, part-think tank with a regular roster of visiting speakers, theatrical events and conferences aimed to change public policy with political action.

The student-led group has partnered with organizations like the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, which pays bail for New Yorkers who can't afford to get out of jail, and JustLeadershipUSA, an organization whose goal is to cut the correctional population in half by 2030.

5. The Domestic Violence Project -- Columbia University

The Domestic Violence Project at Columbia Law School is a legal clinic which helps domestic violence survivors with legal services. Law students assist with pro bono initiatives, like the Uncontested Divorce Workshop, which helps low-income victims of domestic violence divorce their abusers, and the Courtroom Advocates Project, which helps survivors obtain protection orders from their abusive partners.

They also help undocumented immigrants who are in abusive relationships get their residency status for an initiative called the U-Visa project. Lastly, their Human Trafficking Intervention Court Project provides immigration screenings to potential victims of trafficking who have been arrested for prostitution-related offenses. The clinic is part of a larger coalition with other organizations to protect civil rights.

6. Latinas Guiding Latinas -- University of California

The Latinas Guiding Latinas program one of UCLA's oldest groups; it was founded in 1987 as an outreach program to help young students pursue higher education. Focused on helping young students in neighborhoods East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, this mentorship program has matched up UCLA students with Latinx high school students, as well as elementary schools. The mentors are trained to help guide young students along on their career paths, develop their self-esteem and break cultural stereotypes.

7. Allied in Pride -- George Washington University

As the university's largest LGBTQ advocacy group, Allied in Pride at George Washington University helps support queer students who experience hatred on campus, as well as fight gender-based discrimination in education.

Their goal is to help gain rights for the trans community in university and work to raise awareness on trans issues in the DC area. Some events they've hosted include screenings, like of The Times of Harvey Milk, a documentary about California's first openly gay politician, and talks by Laverne Cox, a trans activist and actress from Orange is the New Black who was the first transgender actress to ever be nominated for an Emmy Award. They also promote pro-LGBTQ policies on campus.


Check out more videos from VICE:


8. Students for Sensible Drug Policy

This multi-chapter student network has a presence at over 100 different universities, from Arizona to Minnesota and Colorado. It was first founded in 1998 as response to the "War on Drugs" but has grown to have their own campaigns, which include reforms for marijuana and psychedelic drugs, drug education programs and advocacy to end student drug testing.

As they write on their website, they aim to push for "sensible policies to achieve a safer and more just future," by fighting "counterproductive policies – in particular, those that directly harm students and youth."

For example, the chapter at University of Colorado had an open mural at last month's Be Involved Fair, where anyone could write what they think of the War on Drugs, while the San Francisco chapter is decrying a recent ban on flavored tobacco products.

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9. Sierra Student Coalition

As the student counterpart to the grassroots organization, the Sierra Club, the Sierra Student Coalition is a multi-chapter organization in over 25 states. It is powered by students who aim to protect the environment and raise awareness around climate change.

Since 1991, they've worked to organize protests that advocate for environmental protection, like their Climate Justice League, which trains students in a 10-week program about the impact of climate change and environmental pollution and how to organize their own events.

The Florida International University chapter has a petition for 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 (just like VICE Impact) while the Case Western Reserve University chapter is organizing a petition to lobby for clean energy, by writing the mayor of Cleveland, Frank G. Jackson to fit the downtown area with 100 percent clean energy by 2035.