Students speak about activism on Grounds

Panel held as part of Humanities Week

As a part of the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures “Humanities Week,” a student activism panel was held Thursday night in Nau Hall. The panel drew student activists of different backgrounds under scope of a common event theme — inequality.

Over 20 students and professors attended the event.

Student leaders from Take Back the Night, Dreamers on Grounds and the Queer Student Union were among the many University organizations who were a part of the panel and represented a broad range of issues.

Kendall King, a third-year College student, provided insight on issues surrounding climate change and increases in University tuition. She works with Climate Action Society and U.Va. Students United on these issues, respectively.

The University is a very exclusive place and has a racialized history, but the University is bringing awareness to the issues, she said.

“We have to do things like stop raising tuition and have more opportunities for accessibility for low-income students,” King said. “It is important to translate words and awareness of history into action to change the University.”

There has been a steady increase in tuition at the University during the past few years — including a tuition increase approved by the Board of Visitors Thursday — and King points to the Restructuring Act of 2005 as the cause.

King said the Restructuring Act shifted control over public tuition from the General Assembly to the universities themselves, and claimed the University in turn shifted to a “private model.”

“[What] you’ve seen recently is an admission team that is catering to those applicants, try to bring in that private money,” King said. “We know what’s going on. We know this is not the way governments should work. We know this is not how public universities should work.”

Paola Sanchez-Valdez, a third-year Curry student, decided to become more involved in activism because of her personal experiences, as she learned more about who she was and how to best express herself.

“I came to the U.S. when I was two, and after six months, my tourist VISAs expired along with my parents’ and my brothers — we were officially undocumented,” Sanchez-Valdez said. “For the next 15 years of my life I had a secret identity, something I had to hide from my peers because I am from the South and there is a very negative stigma regarding undocumented immigrants.”

Sanchez-Valdez said once she entered college, she knew she “wanted to voice what [she’d] been holding back.”

“I am not undocumented anymore — I am a permanent resident here,” Sanchez-Valdez said. “And I want to use my new level of privilege to advocate for Dreamers because I was a dreamer. In my second year, I got involved with DREAMers [on Grounds] because I knew the importance of having a safe space for dreamers.”

DREAMers on Grounds was initially denied contracted independent organizations status last March, but after a petition circulated and accrued over 1,000 signatures and a peaceful protest was held at a Student Council meeting, the CIO was approved, said Sanchez-Valdez. For her, it was the opposition to DREAMers on Grounds that inspired her to keep fighting for this cause.

“I was tired of people saying Dreamers, ‘No you can’t do this, you don’t belong here,’” Sanchez-Valdez said. “This motivated me.”

King advised students wanting to become more involved in activism to “know yourself really strongly.”

“One of the biggest lessons from the divestment campaign that we ran was to know yourself really strongly and build actual grassroots power with your peers,” King said.

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