Thursday afternoon, a panel titled “Student Activism in 2018” took place in the Bangor Room of the Memorial Union at the University of Maine. The event was a part of the Socialist and Marxist Studies Lecture Series and featured four panelists, each representing a different campus organization, as well as the event’s organizer, Olivia Ruhlin.
Panelists included leaders of the Maine Peace Action Committee (MPAC), Wilde Stein, Active Minds and the University of Maine Feminist Collective. Representatives discussed the activism and involvement of the campus group they were representing and took questions from the audience.
The panel covered a multitude of topics, but a heavy focus was put on the importance of voting. Panelists and audience members alike were not afraid to voice their political opinions and their progressive views.
Amber Hathaway, a physics doctorate student and the representative for the Feminist Collective, encouraged people to vote.
“Whether you disagree or agree, they’re still going to vote … the people you don’t like, the ones you don’t want to see voting. They don’t care about your opinion,” Hathaway said. “They’re going to vote. What are you going to do to counteract that?”
This topic of voter disinterest took a front seat in the panel. Attendee Geoffrey Gratwick, a state senator from Maine’s 9th District, brought up concerns and questions he often hears from potential voters when canvassing. He discussed these issues with the impact of votes, the disconnect between voters and the two-party system and single-issue voters.
Aiden Ciaffaglione, the president of Wilde Stein, a student organization established to spread acceptance of sexuality, gender, and the LGBTQ community on campus, talked about discussing these issues with his first-year residents.
“If someone is not doing well, we are all failing … If you don’t vote, you’re perpetuating the idea that voting does nothing. We are a community. We are here to fight for each other,” Ciaffaglione said.
Sarah O’Malley, representing Active Minds, also touched on these electoral problems
“When people say, ‘it doesn’t affect me,’ that’s privilege in action,” O’Malley said. “Ideally, we should be empathizing with people … We all should be voting. It’s the minimum … just be empathetic towards people in our communities disadvantaged by these policies.”
Panelists also discussed the troubles they had faced in their organizations when working with the Student Senate, an organization in charge of funding and running events on campus. Several of the panelists mentioned that one of the biggest problems activist organizations run into on campus is a lack of funding.
Ciaffaglione discussed the hurdles encountered by Wilde Stein when trying to obtain funding to invite a speaker to campus. As a part of pride week, the speaker would discuss intersex issues and activism. This was denoted as a common shared experience, as the Black Student Union met resistance when trying to fund for a natural hair care workshop.
Panelists discussed how they support each other’s organizations, especially when activists from any of the groups are running for student senate in the hopes to make it more diverse and representative of the UMaine community.
Activist organizations attempt to make changes all around campus, whether they get the recognition or awareness they want or not. These groups are focused on diversity, inclusivity and above all, uniting the community for the greater good.
More information can be found in the Multicultural Student Lounge, the Women’s Resource Center and the Rainbow Resource Center in the Memorial Union.