College is the time in your life where you’re learning not just by hitting the books, but growing and learning to be part of a small community. But larger events in the world are still going on outside of campus, some that inspire hope and others that demand to be challenged. College students in Western Massachusetts rally behind many different causes, including reproductive rights, divesting from fossil fuels, ending a culture of rape, and calling for improved drug laws. Don’t hesitate to dig into your school’s activity department. There’s likely a cause that you’ll be passionate about. For many students engaged in activism on campus, it’s about educating themselves and being willing to stand by those beliefs.
The Cannabis Reform Coalition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Tuesdays at 7 p.m. in Room 302 of the Student Union. blogs.umass.edu/cannabis.
Although recreational weed is now legal in Massachusetts, that’s not stopping the efforts of the Cannabis Reform Coalition, which has advocated for better drug policies since it began in 1991.
Claire Walsh, the coalition’s social media director, said state politicians are trying to suppress the will of the public by postponing the application of policies outlined under the successful 2016 ballot initiative.
“We plan to stop this from happening by calling our representatives and encouraging the public to call and demand that the bill be passed as we voted for it, unchanged,” she said.
Walsh said the group challenges the negative stigma surrounding marijuana by emphasizing its roles in medicine and a form of commerce, not just for recreational use.
“Past and current members have attended town board meetings, written letters, and made calls to our local government; attended panels which discuss drug policy, and organized talks at UMass Amherst with themes such as, ‘Yes We Cannabis,’” she said.
The group has 30 active members and each semester the groups enrollment varies from 20 to 50 people, Walsh said. For the past 26 years, the group has organized the popular grassroots political rally and festival, Extravaganja, which started in the center of Amherst as a 50 person protest and has grown to an event with more than 10,000 attendees at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton, where the event was moved to in 2016.
“We are planning to change our meeting style this fall so that members can be much more involved in organizing political and social activities for the club,” Walsh said.
Amherst College Reproductive Justice Alliance, facebook.com/amherstcollegerja.
The right for women to have an abortion is just one cause that Amherst College’s Reproductive Justice Alliance rallies behind, said President and Co-Founder Samantha O’Brien, an incoming senior at Amherst College. Others include the right to parent and the right to raise one’s child in a healthy and safe environment.
“It’s more than just the right to choose,” O’Brien said. “When the right to choose was won during Roe v. Wade it was quickly seen to be most beneficial to those who have financial access to abortions … So, [we also] include racial justice, environmental justice, anything even related to having a body in this world and what it means to occupy a body in this world.”
O’Brien said the Amherst College chapter raises money for the Holyoke-based Prison Birth Project through events such as a 5K race.
“It mainly focuses on women of color and trans women who are mothers or pregnant and incarcerated and focuses on their reintegration into society as mothers, but also as formerly incarcerated people,” she said.
The 30 to 40 member group formed in response to Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency in the 2016 election, she said.
“We were frustrated by social justice movements in general that didn’t get to root causes of issues; they wanted to focus on their issue without seeing how things are inextricably linked,” O’Brien said. “After the election we wanted to attend the Women’s March and we wanted to form a group that wasn’t focused on women’s issues in this abstract sense; one that focused more on human rights and injustice.”
Dismantling Rape Culture
Coalition to End Rape Culture (CERC) at UMass Amherst, Mondays 5 to 6:30 p.m. Check facebook.com/UMassCERC for meeting locations.
CERC was formed in 2012 by survivors of sexual violence when the systems in place at UMass “failed to give them the support they needed,” says CERC Co-President Haley Cramer. The group created the Survivor Bill of Rights — a list of demands to UMass about implementing policy regarding sexual violence that includes offering anonymity to survivors and better access to resources such as counseling and medical attention.
“Rape culture and sexism isn’t an issue that happens in a bubble outside of racism, ableism, classism, and other injustices … Rape culture is the normalization of sexual violence and is a result of many systems of oppression that make up our society,” she said. “As an organization, we have three main goals towards fighting back against rape culture — education, advocacy, and support.”
The 110 member group seeks to educate people about consent by hosting weekly meetings as well as campus-wide and town-wide events around Halloween and Valentine’s Day, Cramer said.
“We hold rallies, pushing for our Survivor Bill of Rights, meet with administration at UMass, and present our case for reform surrounding how sexual violence is handled in front of the Board of Trustees,”she said.
The group also raises money for Safe Passage, an organization that supports victims of domestic violence and advertises about services available from the Center for Women and Community at UMass. CERC also hosts a monthly survivor only safe space meeting.
“We also hold more politically oriented events like the streetlight campaign, where we hung up large posters of members with quotes from the [Survivor Bill of Rights] in a busy part of campus,” Cramer said. “Along with the posters, we held a rally and over 100 students marched into Chancellor [Kumble Subbaswamy]’s office to deliver a copy of the [Survivor Bill of Rights] and demand that it be implemented.”
No Fossil Fuel $$ on this Campus
Divest Smith College, divestsmithcollege.com
Students at Smith College hope their college will divest funding from the fossil fuel industry. They’re calling for the college to get rid of stocks, bond, or other investment funds associated with the fossil fuel industry.
In May 2016, UMass Amherst announced that it would divest its endowment from fossil fuels following Divest UMass protests in April 2016, in which 34 students were arrested for trespassing after five days of occupying the Whitmore Administration Building. In March 2017, more than 50 students with Divest Smith hosted a rally calling for Smith’s board of trustees to divest.
Eleanor Adachi, a recent graduate of Smith College who was a long-term strategist with Divest Smith, said the college’s investment in fossil fuels is about $100 million, about 7 percent of the college’s $1.8 billion endowment.
“We’ve been really pursuing a strategy of trying to work with our administration as much as possible,” she said. “So, we’ve presented a couple times to our Board of Trustees … This past year we have been taking more visible action. One thing that we did in 2016 was support another divestment campaign [at UMass Amherst].”
Adachi said in March the 40 to 50 member group hosted a vigil for climate justice that received local news coverage in the Daily Hampshire Gazette and MassLive.
She said she’s hopeful Smith College administrative officials would divest from fossil fuels.
“Especially given the controversy around the issue, I think, they’re willing to make changes. Whether or not it’s on the scale that our campaign is asking for … we’ll have to see,” Adachi said.
Chris Goudreau can be reached at email@example.com.