On Thursday, Nov. 21, the Socialist and Marxist Studies Series wrapped up its fall series with the “Student Activism in the Fall of 2019” forum. The event gave student activists at the University of Maine the opportunity to speak on their participation in activism, as well as speak on some of the activism events that have occurred this semester at UMaine.
Speaking on the panel was third-year business management student Hannah Thomson, third-year political science student MJ Smith and second-year political science student, Catherine Stott. Thomson is the co-leader of the UMaine Feminist Collective, Smith is the president of Wilde Stein: Queer-Straight Alliance at UMaine and Stott represents the Sustainable Environmental Activism Department (SEAD) at UMaine. Accompanying the student panelists was Rob Laraway of the Maine Peace Action Committee. The Maine Peace Action Committee is a UMaine student organization that co-sponsored the event.
The event served as a space for Thomson, Smith and Stott to share their experiences as student activists, as well as provide an opportunity for members of the UMaine community to interact with student activists. The panelists spoke about their own personal experiences with student activism and shared some of the activism events that they had recently participated in.
Smith was present at the sit-in on Nov. 9, which called for action against Director of Government and Community Relations Samantha Warren. Stott had been at the climate change walkout in September. As the students recounted their experiences, Laraway complimented the stories with personal anecdotes about the value of student activism.
“My experiences with activism really started in college. I became president of a historically activist organization, Wilde Stein, which has now evolved into being an activist organization by creating safe spaces for queer individuals on campus,” Smith said.
Throughout their time on the panel, Smith repeatedly stressed that, for LGBTQ people, often just existing is an act of activism.
“We program events that encourage queer college students to be themselves, which in [itself] is a radical act in our society, especially on campus,” Smith said.
Thomson noted that she interacts with activism both on and off-campus through the Feminist Collective, known within the UMaine community as FemC. FemC strives to address feminist issues by advocating for the equality of women, men and gender-non-conforming folx.
“Activism is … continuing to have uncomfortable conversations, addressing personal biases and unconscious biases, to better understand the intersection of values,” Thomson noted.
Through FemC, she strives to promote and hone community values.
“Equality is one of our main values…and we strive to promote that for men, women and other folks and in the UMaine community,” Thomson said.
During her section of the panel, Stott noted that, while activism within groups is important and impactful, activism is often more powerful when groups can collaborate.
“Small things … can be more effective when you pool your resources,” Stott said.
Stott, who is deeply environmentally conscious, uses her work with SEAD to have a lasting impact on other groups on campus. Notably, SEAD coordinated with the International Programs Department and many of the international student groups to ensure that the 2019 Culturefest was a Zero-Waste event.
“Through collaboration with the Green Campus Initiative, the Defenders of Wildlife and other student organizations on campus, SEAD has been able to promote activities which encourage the UMaine community to live more sustainably,” Stott said.
The work from these student panelists demonstrates a deep consideration of the values of the UMaine community and a commitment to lasting change on campus and beyond.