UA student advocacy groups on the rise

Jessa Reid Bolling

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






College campuses have become a place for students to find like-minded people to work alongside and raise awareness surrounding certain issues, from as far back as the Civil Rights movement and opposing the Vietnam War to current issues like the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements.

In recent years, The University of Alabama has seen a rise in the number of advocacy groups on campus. From political movements to community outreach, students have found a way to voice their concerns on certain issues through advocacy groups to work for change.

Teryn Shipman, coordinating student assistant with the Intercultural Diversity Center, said that the rise in advocacy groups can be attributed to a rise in political activism such as the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements. However, an influx of students interested in advocacy can cause problems for groups. The original goal of an advocacy group can be lost as new people with new ideas get involved.

“It is good to have more people wanting to get involved in advocacy but often they don’t know the original goals or the mission of that group because they do join at a later time, and we’ve seen that with things like the Me Too movement and Black Lives Matter, like how they were founded by black women but that narrative is often lost,” Shipman said. “So I think that it can be the same with these groups on campus that are already created and have done the work and then other people join the movement and the lines get blurred very quickly.”

In recent years, student groups hosting controversial speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Rick Santorum and, more recently, the cancelled Jared Taylor event, have raised the issue of who student groups can invite to campus, shifting the debate to preventing what some see as hate speech versus hindering another’s free speech.

“We’ve had this happen like when Milo was brought to campus and students spoke out against it,” Shipman said. “But the emails that we get from our administration and from our president, they say that they condemn these types of events and these types of groups but they also really protect those ideas because, not only do they allow these speakers to come, but these organizations still exist.”

Helmi Henkin, a psychology major and advocate for reproductive justice and mental health awareness, said having a more strict vetting process before a student group can be registered is a matter of ensuring the overall safety and respect of all students, faculty and staff on campus, rather than an attack on other’s free speech.

“It’s just funny with conservative students on campus posting on social media a lot of the time that they feel threatened and intimidated by these liberal think tanks,” Helmi said. “In reality, Alabama is one of the most conservative schools in the country and there’s a lot working against liberal organizations on campus, especially those that are involved in advocacy.”

Henkin said that advocacy has power in numbers and that students interested in getting involved on campus need to educate themselves on advocacy groups that already exist rather than creating a completely different organization. This can increase their influence on campus and help them accomplish their goals.

“There’s power in numbers and there’s power in knowing what you’re talking about,” Henkin said. “So as long as the organizing continues moving in a positive, productive direction, there is the real potential for change.”

Even with the challenges that student organizations often face, Henkin is optimistic that there will continue to be a place for advocacy on campus, even as leaders of these groups graduate and new student leaders come forward to take their place. However, Henkin believes that students have to be their own advocates and not be afraid to take charge.

“I’m really hopeful that when I leave, the progressive community is going to continue to flourish and that there will be a respected space for these people because students have been facing problems for as long as the University has existed and of course as culture changes and time progresses, these problems morph,” Henkin said. “But if students don’t make these problems clear, then it’s not like they’re going to have anybody advocating for them. Advocacy groups provide a space for students to support one another, find people who have similar interests and passions for causes and they help students organize to try and do something about these causes.”