Student Activism

With social movements such as #NeverAgain and #MarchforOurLives making headlines, student activism is being emphasized as an important component of social change. Students are taking to the streets in marches, speaking at town hall meetings and using social media to advocate for more strict gun control legislation. Now more than ever, the significance of youth activists is clear.

However, student activism is nothing new. Modern protests began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. From wearing armbands to protest war to UC Berkeley’s Free Speech movement, student activism has taken on several different forms; protests, walkouts and organizations are some of the most common ways students have taken a stand. In all forms, student activism has historically been a recurring method of making change. On our campus, we have our own history of student activism. Students have created and organized clubs, interest groups, protests and fundraisers that impacted our local community and beyond.

Girl Up

Girl Up is an international, non-profit organization created by the United Nations in 2010 to help advocate for the safety, rights, and well-being of girls in third world countries. The Girl Up club not only empowers and support girls in other countries, but also here in Newbury Park.

Catie Parker, junior, is the communications secretary for Girl Up, and was most drawn to it to support women’s rights. “Supporting women’s rights is one of the most important things you can do in this day in age. Specifically with recent politics, putting time and effort into causes you care about is crucial to enact change with our presidential administration,” Parker said.

Despite the name, Girl Up is not a club exclusively for women. “(We focus) on getting funds for girl’s education and health in third world countries while empowering girls and boys here,” Parker said.

The global organization promotes activism. “It is led by a community of nearly half a million passionate advocates raising awareness and funds,” Katie Rose, junior and club public advisor, said. “I recognize that I am very privileged in the place where I live so I like to use my privilege to help other girls who are not as fortunate as I am,” Rose said.

Girl Up has written a variety of letters to Congress, in hopes of gaining their support to safety and transportation laws in third world countries.

This activist group not only promotes change in other nations, but also attempts to open the eyes of those in other countries as well. “I always knew that women did not have equal rights everywhere in the world, but I had no idea to what extent they were deprived of necessary rights. Since learning from Girl Up, I have become even more passionate about women’s rights and I now want to major in political science with a minor in Women’s Studies for college,” Parker said.

Youth and Government

The California YMCA Youth and Government program (Y&G) is a model legislature that teaches students how positions in government operate. As a result of teaching students about government and leadership, the program has inspired many members to be politically active.

After joining his sophomore year, Luis Tun, senior, used the skills he fostered in Y&G to become involved in his community.

“I wasn’t really confident in my ability to (publically) speak and read, and be an active advocate for my community, but going into my junior year I really used a lot of the skills I learned from my sophomore year and I started working with organizations within my community,” Tun said.

Tun has reached out to community leaders to enact change.

“I was able to speak to the board of education to talk about issues on the misrepresentation of Latinos in our community, to talking about how SAT fee waivers should be given, and lowering the cost of AP testing,” Tun said. “I was able to do that and share my experiences with them, so I think it’s been fueling me to help me find a passion for advocacy, which I want to do in college.”

Tun explained that Y&G drove him to be more active.

“Youth and Government was that stepping stone for me that got me to be a more confident, social and interactive person on issues that I’m passionate about,” Tun said. “Whether it’s healthcare, immigration rights, education equity… I think that Youth and Government just helped me become that person but also gain more information about what I want to do.”

Grant Hoffman, senior, has also become more politically active through Youth and Government, attending events including the Women’s March, March for Science and school board meetings. At these marches, Hoffman found students from Y&G delegations outside of Newbury Park.

“You go to the school board meetings, you see a ton of Y&G kids there. You go to the protests, the Women’s March, the Science March, there’s a ton of Y&G kids there,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman believes that participating on a local level is the key to creating political change.

“I think that it’s very easy to look at politics and stuff on a national level and think that, ‘oh I can never change that. I can never make a difference,’ but when you start looking at stuff on a statewide level, and then on a regional level, and then on a local level, you see that change is really possible,” Hoffman said. “And if you really want change in your own community, you’re gonna have to do that yourself.”

Latinos Unidos

For several students on campus, experiences such as getting into college, feeling active in the community and learning about career opportunities are not always accessible. Latinos Unidos is a club linked to Thousand Oaks High School and Westlake High School that works with Hispanic students who want to learn more about options for the future.

“We provide workshops every Thursday with information on majors, scholarship opportunities, and we promote the idea that we can all reach what we want to,” Anarely Santana, senior and club president, said.

Activities that members can participate in include tours of local colleges such as UCLA and Loyola Marymount University, and tutoring for English Learner Development students. The club also works to promote awareness for diversity within schools.

“You walk into an AP and IB class and the percentage of hispanic students is very low,” Santana said. “I see how many of them are discouraged because they feel like they can’t do it, and (Latinos Unidos) has made me more aware of the people around me.”

The club also does fundraisers throughout the year to support scholarships for graduating seniors as well.

“At first our members came in and heard us talk about college and were a little iffy about it, but now they feel more confident,” Santana said. “They realize they can do so much more than they thought they could.”

Amnesty International

Bringing global topics into our community, Amnesty International focuses on getting more students engaged in and aware of human rights issues.

Amnesty International is a worldwide organization that promotes human rights through their three key components: research, mobilization and advocacy. As a club on campus, they are more focused on understanding the problems that our community faces.

“What we decided was instead of focusing wholeheartedly on international rights as the name suggests, we decided we wanted to be more community based and kind of build some activism from there,” Nivi Shaham, senior and club president, said.

At their weekly meetings, the club members discuss relevant topics, ranging from gun control, to affirmative action, to the school board agenda items. Shaham explained that her main goal is to bring more attention to issues of human rights. At the beginning of the year, the club held a debate on affirmative action that gained much attention and drew students in to watch.

“We wanna help out people around us,” Shaham said. “We think by doing things on a small scale, that’s how you expand it to a more global scale.”

Shaham has also encouraged her club members to attend school board meetings. They then discuss the topics at their next club meeting.

Board meeting attendees

Within the past couple of years, CVUSD students crowded school board meetings and spoke at the podium to address issues that impact their education. These issues included an athletic amendment passed in 2015 that would allow transgender students to play sports with the team they identify with, the FAIR Act implementation in 2016 and the opt-out policy that passed in late 2017.

Many students have been quick to make their voices heard when they are unsatisfied with board policies or activities. Dayna Archer, senior, started attending board meetings this summer when she heard about the controversy over the book, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

Archer felt that it was necessary to express her concerns to the board herself. “I spoke against their opt-out policy at a few meetings because it was really restrictive of what the teachers are able to do,” Archer said.

Archer believes that students can make positive change by speaking up. “We students are able to get our voices heard so the board has a sense of what the students want,” Archer said. “We’re the next generation and eventually we’ll be the ones in politics.”

Evelyn Zhai, senior, also has attended board meetings. “I decided that I wanted to speak out and actually get involved with my education,” Zhai said. She believes that students should get involved in the board’s decisions “because it is our education, and so to ensure that we do get the best education that we can, we should be involved in it.”

GSA

With open arms, the Gay Straight Alliance club (GSA)  meets every Friday in B-2. GSA is a group on campus that promotes the safety, well-being, self-acceptance and confidence for anyone who wishes to join– no matter their gender, sexuality or romantic orientation.

“I joined GSA to educate myself and to understand the LGBT community.” Katie Melchor, senior and club vice president, said. 
GSA hosts different fundraisers throughout the school year in hopes to raise both awareness and funds for a specific cause. They strive to be a helpful and comfortable environment for anyone who is seeking it.

“I feel as if we have made (an) impact… by being a safe space for anyone can go and feel welcomed if they are struggling with sexuality or gender,” Sarah Weinstein, junior said.

GSA also participates in Day of Silence, an annual event formed by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) where students vow to a silence all day in honor and remembrance of the bullying and erasure of those in the LGBTQ+ community and all those lost to suicide stemming from harassment.

“Personally I think that going to GSA has really opened my eyes, especially with the Day of Silence,” Melchor said. This year’s Day of Silence will be taking place on April 27.

At the end of the day, the members of GSA have strong hopes for the differences they will be able to make in the oncoming years. “As a senior, I hope people don’t just see it as the ‘Gay Club’ and I hope to see more acceptance from other students on campus,” Melchor said.

Photo by: Lucia Lemieux

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