What It Means to Be an Activist at BU

There have been rallies and protests across the United States what seems like nearly weekly. From the Women’s March to the No Ban No Wall gathering of thousands in Copley Square, hundreds of thousands of people across America have dusted off their cardboard to become advocates for one cause or another.

There are many student activist groups on campus as well. If you’re looking to make a difference in something, you can likely find a group for it at BU.

We reached out to BU Students for Reproductive Justice and DivestBU to see what they had to say about being activist student groups.

Student organizer of DivestBU Rachel Eckles (CAS ’17) said they advocate for social change through campaigning and rallying the campus, but that it can be difficult for the BU administration to take them seriously.

“We’ve been trying to get a meeting with President Brown for the past two weeks with no success. His assistant gave us a flat out “no” with no explanation or justification as to why,” Eckles explained, even though they secured 450 signatures on a petition in one week.

DivestBU’s goal is to engage the BU community in finding solutions for climate change that go beyond simple, personal lifestyle changes. But these personal changes, Eckles said, “can only have so much of an impact without collective action playing a role in bringing people together.” Their ultimate goal is for BU to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies.

While it is disappointing that the administration won’t see them, Eckles said it is rewarding to “see students lead successful change, proving ourselves and demonstrating that we do not need the affirmation of BU to make things we believe in happen.”

Zoe Tran (CAS ’18), president of BU Students for Reproductive Justice (BUSRJ), an activist group that fights for reproductive justice (which includes things like comprehensive sex education, safe and legal abortion, and accessible contraception) said that with the events of the the recent months,  the group’s biggest challenge has been keeping up the faith.

“It feels like it’s one thing after another with very little room for self-care or recuperation,” Tran said. The group stays busy working hard to create a space for discussion and doing direct work, like registering voters, calling representatives, and volunteering with the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

“It can be really hard to keep up without feeling exhausted and sometimes completely burnt out, but we have a really committed and passionate group of activists who are willing to go to great lengths for what they believe in and it’s really inspiring,” Tran said.

The passionate activists of BUSRJ are not alone in their enthusiasm for getting involved in something bigger than themselves. In fact, there are many ways to get involved on campus. The Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism is a friendly space for those who (you guessed it) want to become activists, and many groups, including those who aren’t activists, like The Quad, use the space as a meeting ground.

And for a sampling of the activist groups on campus, the BU Activist Coalition is an informal meet-up for the activist groups on BU’s campus to come together and update one another on what they’re up to.

For those that want to become activist at a more political level, there is also activism built into BU’s student government with the Advocacy department, which Student Government president Jake Brewer (CAS ’17) said is always accepting submissions. The department hosts events, does research, and talks with administrators to advocate for diversity at BU.

And while there are many ways to find out about a rally or protest or other advocacy event, Activist Calendar aggregates events in the Boston area to help bring groups together and create collaborations.

No matter what the next protest or rally is for, you’re likely to find BU students in the crowd – and if clever cardboard signs get you going, or you’re crazy about defending civil liberties, you might find a group that you want to change the world with, right on your own campus or city.

Photo by Yadira Flores from the Boston Women’s March. 

About Hallie Smith

Hallie (COM '17) is a journalism major from California. She is currently a health intern at Boston Magazine and editor-in-chief of the Quad. She can be reached at hsmith@buquad.com

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