Empowerment Through Education

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A look back at student organizations fighting for civil rights in the 1960s and 2010s

The streets are filled with peaceful protesters; petitions are circulating and rallies are being held for equal rights. While this description sounds like the 1960s, known as a decade of change and fighting for equal rights, it could also be applied today. All around the U.S. in both the 1960s and the 2010s, there are organizations dedicated to promoting civil rights.

Movements advocating for the rights of African Americans, women, LGBTQ+ citizens and many other minority groups gained popularity during the 1960s. These movements had chapters present on MSU’s campus that still fight for civil rights today. Many of these groups have a common focus: empowering students through education and increasing graduation rates of students no matter the obstacles they face.

The three groups featured in this article each stand for unique causes and fight for equality beyond the realm of education. However, they all believe education is the key to opportunities and feature campaigns specific to this cause. These groups also think that uplifting students through education is a powerful tool to end discrimination.

One of the most prominent groups on campus fighting for the empowerment of African Americans is the Black Student Alliance (BSA). Established in 1966 with the help of Dr. Robert Green, former dean of the Urban Affairs Program at MSU, BSA soon grew to become a central advocacy group. Today, BSA continues to “ensure the promotion of radical Black love, through collective advocacy, continual support and results driven action, to redefine the Black experience,” according to their mission statement.

Right now, the major BSA campaign is to increase the graduation rate of black students. The hashtag #GreaterThan58 represents the mission to increase the related graduation rate of students beyond the 2015 statistic of 58 percent. This campaign advocates for the upliftment of all students on campus to achieve an excellent education and have unlimited opportunities. For more information, go to bsamsu.weebly.com.

Another organization fighting for equal access to a safe and successful education is the Gay Liberation Front, which was created at MSU over 40 years ago. This organization was established with the goal to fight for the equality for all students on campus, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. This group was created shortly after the Stonewall riots, a violent protest that took place in New York City. The riots spurred the growth of advocacy groups and marches nationwide for the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals.

Today, the Gay Liberation Front at MSU is called the Alliance of Queer and Ally Students. This student group believes oppression of any kind serves as a barrier to academic success, and therefore the university must work to make campus an inclusive, diverse community that is in no way discriminatory toward those identifying as LGBTQ+. This group’s mission is to “expand the horizons of social, legal, economic and sexual equality.” In addition to organizing events on campus, this group uses social media to alert students to the most inclusive spaces on campus, including neutral-gender bathrooms. Through its campaigns, the hope is to limit any obstacles that may impede the academic achievement of LGBTQ+ students. To join in, go to alliancemsu.weebly.com.

Lastly, an organization that was created to advocate for women’s rights and women’s education is called She’s the First. While this organization was not created in the 1960s, the massive progress made by the Women’s Rights Movement during that time relates to the continued progress made by strong women today.

She’s the First was established in 2009 by two women with the goal of using social media to motivate girls all over the world to graduate high school and further their education. This organization works hard to lessen the impact of obstacles that can get in the way of women graduating: poverty, long routes to school, higher costs of living and early marriage to name a few.

The MSU chapter of She’s the First was founded in 2013. This independent chapter hosts events once per semester to raise money that is used to sponsor girls in countries like Uganda, Nepal and Guatemala. They believe that “for underprivileged girls, the impact of a sponsorship is life-changing,” and therefore work hard to give young women all around the world the opportunity to receive an education. Whether in a country that is thousands of miles away or in a town near East Lansing, She’s the First fights for those who can’t always fight for themselves. To learn more, go to shesthefirst.org.

These student chapters are each unique in that they fight for different causes, run different campaigns and have diverse members. However, these groups all share a common mission: fighting for education and for the students they represent. The Black Student Alliance, the Alliance of Queer and Ally Students and MSU’s chapter of She’s the First all support increasing educational opportunities around the world. Here at ing Magazine, we understand the incredible doors opened by feeling safe, confident and included in an educational environment that is meant for everyone.

It is essential to celebrate the successes of student organizations that fought and those that continue to fight the fight today. Equality is necessary to truly honor the rich, diverse population T MSU, and student organizations have an incredible impact not just at the campus level but statewide and nationally. The work of organizations like those featured above demonstrates we can make a difference in society and stand up for equal representation — ing Magazine applauds the efforts of these groups and encourages you to get out and advocate for a cause close to your heart.