While some students hold drinks at Thursday-night mixers, others hold signs to protest the unfair treatment of workers.
These individuals are the student activists of the University of Miami.
Most students involved in some form of activism around campus are members of STAND, short for Students Towards a New Democracy. STAND was founded in 2004 by Bethanie Quinn and Patrick Walsh.
“I’m from [Washington] D.C., where people are really involved in politics and current issues, so it was weird to come to Miami and see that people didn’t care at all,” Quinn said. “After we had the debate here in 2004, people started talking, and we thought we needed to give them a way to pull together.”
Quinn and Walsh used the then-new Facebook to get the word out and soon enough STAND was up and running. It eventually became the student group at the forefront of the UNICCO workers’ campaign. The campaign was a year-long event and included strikes, marches and sit-ins before the workers reached their goal of receiving living wages and benefits.
“The strike was one of the first times I felt that I had helped effect change,” Quinn said. “I was so proud of that strike. It taught me more than any class I ever took at UM.”
Although they are best known for their work with the UNICCO campaign, the members of STAND participate in various forums, protests and boycotts throughout the year.
In September students boycotted American Eagle, along with 15 other universities as part of the American Vulture Campaign. Allegedly, American Eagle’s Canadian distributor is not allowing its workers to unionize.
“I think the boycott was a great way for young people to start realizing not only where their clothing comes from, but how every easily accessible good has been made on the backs of the working poor, even if we do not intend it to be so,” said Alyssa Cundari, a junior and organizer for STAND.
STAND’s most recent cause is for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization looking to raise the wages and better the working conditions of tomato pickers in Immokalee, located in Collier County. An on-campus forum featuring one of the workers took place on Oct. 4.
“The CIW is one of the issues I care most about this semester,” said Sara Phillips, a junior and member of STAND. “I hope they raise the farm workers’ wages, and I want to help them be successful in doing so.”
Many of the students involved in activism on campus see themselves following that path into the future.
“I really love seeing people take a grassroots approach to effecting change,” Phillips said. “I’m hoping to be a lobbyist someday so I can continue doing work like this for the rest of my life.”
Quinn is already achieving this goal. After graduating last year, she got a job with SEIU, the labor union that worked with UNICCO workers during the strike.
Besides being people of action, the student activist community wants fellow students to recognize that there is a world beyond UM.
“I think it’s really easy for people here to get trapped in a bubble,” Cundari said. “But it is necessary for us to see beyond our comfort zones and take an interest in what is happening in our community, country and world. We can’t just say what we want to do. We have to do it.”
Veronica Sepe may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.