Student groups seek reform for environmental justice, corporate justice, and equality

Highlighting five student campaigns and movements for change on campus and beyond

It is easy to sink into the stream of political apathy when you have a backpack pulling on your shoulders. As the shining students we are, we close the blinds come the start of the semester and submerge ourselves in assignments and exams, even if that may make us ignorant to the world beyond campus. Although you can’t walk to class the week before Election Day without seeing multiple reminders demanding students to vote, we still show up to the polls in small numbers.

There is a portion of students, however, that are throwing this stereotype to the wind in the areas of environmental justice, corporate justice, and equality. The following are a few of the student groups leading campaigns and promoting movements for further change on campus and beyond.

FOSSIL FREE MINNESOTA

“Our core message is that it’s wrong to profit off of climate destruction and wrong for a university to put money that’s supposed to benefit our futures into fossil fuel production”

Paige Ashley Varin

Paige Ashley Varin

Fossil Free Minnesota is a student group and statewide movement leading a fossil fuel divestment campaign on campus. Starting in the spring of 2013, the group has worked to shift the university’s investment money out of fossil fuel companies in protest of the companies’ contributions to negative climate change.

“Our biggest challenge has been gaining traction,” Noah Shavit-Lonstein, sophomore political science major, said. “The university hasn’t divested because we haven’t yet convinced them that they have such a good reason to. We’re in the process of making this case on a bigger scale.”

In order to achieve their goal, Fossil Free Minnesota has been getting their message out to students and administrators through events such as environmental film showings, open mics, photo petitioning, and political forums. Showing support for other environmentalist groups and campaigns, members of Fossil Free Minnesota have also participated in other climate change protests including Tar Sands and March Against Monsanto. This past September, the group contributed nearly a busload of people for the People’s Climate March in New York City. This month, the group started an awareness project called Orange Wednesdays.

“Orange is the color the divestment movement tends to use for things,” Shavit-Lonstein said. “[Orange Wednesdays] is where members of the group and supporters wear orange on Wednesdays as a way of ensuring our issue is in the public eye.”

While Fossil Free Minnesota is gaining ground, not all students are aware or interested in this particular issue of environmental justice.

“Students should be aware of and involved with what we’re doing because the divestment movement is a movement that’s getting results in the environmental world,” Shavit-Lonstein said. “It’s the fastest growing divestment movement in history. It’s a new type of environmental organizing—from the grassroots, and with a clear, moral message.”

Fossil Free Minnesota meets Wednesday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. in STSS room 530A.

MPIRG’s PRISON DIVESTMENT

“The school to prison pipeline should be important to college students because, generally speaking, we haven’t been affected by these issues, but our peers have. We are so incredibly lucky to have been able to receive the education we did to make it to the U. We can’t just allow for the advancement of some students. All students should have the right to a good education.”

Members of the student group Minnesota Public Interest and Research Group (MPIRG) have recently started working to combat the school to prison pipeline through campaigning for university divestment from for-profit prisons.

The school to prison pipeline is a widespread trend in the US of funneling disadvantaged students out of school and into the criminal justice system through zero-tolerance policies that criminalize minor violations of school rules.

“The school to prison pipeline is real. There are students being failed every day by our educational institutions, and money is being poured into honors classes instead of helping students who need more attention,” said sophomore Urban Studies major Montana Filoteo. “There are zero tolerance policies, police presence in schools, and racial profiling of students that disproportionately hurt students of color—namely black students with Latino students not far behind.”

In order to spread awareness of this school to prison pipeline, the group hopes to host speakers as well as hand out flyers with information on the issue. Once more awareness is created, MPRIG plans to discuss divestment from for-profit prisons with university administrators.

“I love being a part of campaigns on campus because other students are incredibly inspiring to me. These students manage school, work and personal time and still prioritize working on issues that are passionate to them. Their drive is what keeps me working on these social issues.” -Montana Filoteo, MPIRG sophomore working on prison divestment

“Divestment campaigns are hard to attack,” Filoteo said. “You have to first figure out which corporations the U has ties with, what sort of contracts they have, and for how long, and then convince the respective board that we should break said contracts.”

While this issue may attract a large amount of activists for equality and education reform, it is an unfamiliar topic for the majority of university students. But you can change that. MPIRG meets on Mondays from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in Coffman room 324. The group members working on these particular issues are a part of the democracy division of MPIRG.

STUDENTS UNITED AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY

“Students United Against Police Brutality exists to foster a climate of resistance and activism against abuses of authority in all areas of the justice system.”

Eric Bauer

Eric Bauer

The student group Students United Against Police Brutality (SUAPB) was formed last spring in an effort to generate awareness and action on the realities of police brutality and racial profiling in our community and on campus.

Although less than a year old, the group has conducted Know Your Rights trainings for students, hosted an Attorney General candidate debate, organized a Silent Memorial for Minnesota’s Stolen Lives, and assisted with organizing the National Day of Protest in Minneapolis.

Generating awareness is particularly essential for the success of SUAPB due to the misconceptions often attached to police reform groups.

“Many counter-police brutality organizations are viewed as too radical or cop-hating by communities and individuals not familiar with these systemic issues,” said Bauer. “Educating communities about the severity of these issues, while proving we are an action-oriented group with resources and determination to work to prevent these abuses, will be an ongoing primary focus of our organization.”

Look out for Students United Against Police Brutality outside Coffman this November, leading a rally and march concerning the events in Ferguson, Missouri and the murder of Michael Brown.

REAL FOOD CHALLENGE

“Even if [students] do not have a dining hall plan, our movement will still have a huge impact on surrounding communities. For example, by buying more locally based foods, we are putting money directly into the local economy and supporting the farmers in our region.”

Evelina Knodel

Evelina Knodel

Real Food Challenge is a team of students campaigning for more local, fair, humane, and environmentally friendly food products in university dining halls and marketplaces. Although the percentage of campus food that currently fits these standards lies around 7 percent, the group is striving for 20 percent by the year 2020.

Real Food Challenge not only needs to convince the university administrators to commit to their 20 percent goal, it also needs to convince Aramark, the school’s food service provider and a Fortune 500 company.

“The U basically gets all of their food from Aramark,” said Moriah Maternoski, a sophomore food systems major and a leading member of the Real Food Challenge group. “Even if other students back us and faculty backs us as well, we realize that changing food on campus will take a lot of work due to Aramark’s large influence.”

Yet why should students care about this campaign if they’re not eating in the dining halls or marketplaces? Real Food Challenge also helps local farmers stay afloat and enables them to continue to grow food for us, according to Maternoski. The group’s work connects us directly to our farmers, fostering a more personal relationship with them.

Currently, Real Food Challenge team is gathering petitions at events and around campus to show student support for the campaign. The group meets as a part of the U Students Like Good Food student group every Tuesday night from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Coffman room 324.

FEMINIST STUDENT ACTIVIST COLLECTIVE

“We try to keep our initiatives as inclusive as possible, focusing on oppressions of all varieties which intersect with gender oppression.”

Lauren Skager

Lauren Skager

The Feminist Student Activist Collective, formerly known as the Women’s Student Activist Collective, is a group of students working on consent campaigns, women’s rights, and the rights of people of all marginalized genders. A major aspect of the collective is their room on the second floor of Coffman that focuses on maintaining a safe space as well as creating a collaborative nature within the group and with the cultural centers surrounding it.

“We have been working to step away from being considered a women only feminist space,” said Brittany Bastian, a senior gender, women, and sexuality studies major. FSAC is for everyone and anyone.

Much of FSAC’s work is collaborative with other groups, including last spring’s Take Back the Night event that included a march down University Ave. for sexual violence awareness, as well as working on the Aurora Center’s consent campaign.

“FSAC has thrown a consent week event every year where we spend the entire week organizing workshops and handing out information about consent,” said Bastian. “Other than that, what we have been doing is holding consciousness-raising sessions about feminist issues every week before our meeting.”

While the mission of FSAC certainly aligns with the feminists and activists on campus, why should other students be paying attention?

“When you come from a place of privilege, you don’t have to think about the ways in which things cause harm to people who are not like you,” said Bastian. “Understanding this can lead to change, and allow for students whose narratives are frequently silenced to be given a platform. It’s important that students recognize this.”

The Feminist Student Activist Collective meets on Wednesdays at 4 p.m. in Coffman room 215.