Back to School with Student Groups
Guest blog by Amnesty Scotland volunteer coordinator Risga Carson
Student groups are a vital part of the work that we do. Active and enthusiastic, many of our members first started in these groups and continued a lifelong association with us.
The start of the academic year sees a great deal of activity, as Freshers’ Weeks are used to not only encourage new members, but also to launch many of the upcoming year’s campaigns. Events in the first couple of weeks often focus on activities such as orientation and socialising, and give them a human rights twist.
The Dundee University Group used it to launch the return of their ‘Human Rights Film Series’ with a documentary on the Syrian revolution, followed by a discussion.
The Edinburgh University Group ran a human rights tour of Edinburgh, allowing students to not only get to know their new city but to find out about the role it plays in current key human rights issues as well as historical background. Stops included Greyfriars Kirkyard, the site where over a thousand Covenanters were imprisoned in the 17th century because of their religious beliefs, and the site of the last public execution in Edinburgh.
Throughout the year, groups generally have weekly meetings and a variety of other social events such as pub quizzes. These weekly meetings are entirely student run, and can include presentations on the week’s topic or ongoing campaigns as well as actions such as demonstrations and petitions.
Katie, a member of the Edinburgh University group, says her favourite action was part of the Edinburgh group’s Guantanamo Bay campaign, “we did a flash mob in our student union: some people were planted as suspects being shouted at and forced into orange jumpsuits by others who marched in dressed as guards”.
Campaigns are wide-ranging. In addition to wider Amnesty actions, student groups will also often work on issues which are directly related to their lives such as university funding. In the past year, Glasgow University’s Amnesty group was involved with the ‘Conflict-Free Campus Initiative,’ which called for the University and stakeholders to pressure electronics’ companies to use ‘conflict-free’ minerals in their products and to stop the use of those mined under the control of armed groups in the Congo.
This campaign is allowing students to not only have a say in University policy, as they continue to work with the governing bodies to change the way they source their electronics, but also to work with MSPs, both by writing to them to launch a motion in the Scottish Parliament, and through Patrick Harvie MSP’s participation in their campaign videos.
The Edinburgh group is currently campaigning against Russia’s continuing oppression of the LGBTI community. In the lead up to filming a solidarity video for campaigners in Russia, the group was involved in discussions of the issues of LGBTI rights, organising the event, and making banners to be featured in the video.
In addition to ordinary members being involved with the society roughly two days a week (for committee members it is closer to four), many get involved with other aspects of Amnesty. Whether through taking action, by following us online or getting involved with the Scotland office during the Edinburgh Festival, student activists are some of our most dedicated and enthusiastic members.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.