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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Activities & Organizations

Activism panel encourages civic engagement among students

The panel of three speakers encouraged students to be more active within their communities, but also stressed an important balance between schoolwork and politics. | Courtesy of Circle K International

On the second floor of M.D. Anderson Library, panelists on Tuesday evening’s “From Academics to Activism: Organizing in Your Community” discussion educated students on their power to be activists.

The event was organized by Voices of UH, a group that advocates for marginalized communities, and Circle K International, a community service organization. It was intended to promote student civic engagement and participation, said Circle K International President Alexander Le.

“The speakers were all invited due to their diverse backgrounds, including age, race, type of political affiliation and their service to the Houston community,” Le said.

The discussion began with a Q&A session on maintaining academic and political balance.

Michael Floyd, a UH political science junior and Pearland ISD Board of Trustees member, talked about the struggle of keeping that balance.

“It’s a mess,” Floyd said. “It’s a lot of sacrificing of things I’d rather do, like hanging out with friends. It’s a give and take.”

While Floyd talked about the importance of self-care and managing your time, Sri Preston Kulkarni, a Foreign Service Officer and former candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, emphasized balance for those wanting to be a politician.

“If we just work all the time, we’d be robots,” Kulkarni said.

The topic switched to politics and activism being the better ways to create change within the community. Seventeen-year-old Strafford High School senior Marcel McClinton, a shooting survivor and current candidate for the Houston City Council, said you need them both to make true change in your community.

“It’s important that we participate, not just in our activist position but also in the political field,” he said. “We need both if we want to let our politicians know what’s the issue and also have the power to pass it.”

As the panel’s answers grew in length, it got to the final question of the Q&A, focusing on how students can participate in activism.

McClinton and Kulkarni both want students to avoid shrugging off politics as something that doesn’t affect them.

“I hate when people say they aren’t interested in politics. Politics is interested in you. Wherever you go, politics affects you,” Kulkarni said.

Floyd urged students to volunteer in their congressional district and to shadow their representative so they can learn what values they represent.

After the Q&A, the floor was opened up to the audience for questions. Some had questions about how younger students can get involved. Irene Guenther, a history professor in the Honors College, brought up the need to inform middle to high school students about politics and how to get involved.

McClinton and Floyd argued that it is necessary to have a class in school that promotes civic engagement.

Kulkarni had a different approach, however, wanting to push students more rather than just educating them.

“It doesn’t help to just tell young people what to do in a class. They need actual experience. They need to go out and participate,” Kulkarni said.

With a few more questions from the audience, the panel wrapped up.  Audience members had a lot to say about the speech.

Environmental science senior Ruth Acosta said the panel was informative for activists.

“The fact that they didn’t agree all the time made it dynamic. This is a good example of having a good conversation,” Acosta said.

Others were glad the panelists were bringing awareness to the UH community. Chemical engineering junior Danielle London said the discussion was engaging as well as productive.

“It’s great to raise awareness. It’s good to talk to people who have inspired great change in their community,” London said.

Le said discussions like this can help pave the way for current generations like millennials and Generation Z to participate in political activism.

“We believe students should find ways to incorporate public service and civic engagement into their lives, such as voting in municipal elections, calling their representatives and perhaps even run for office themselves,” Le said.

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