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United formed to connect activism groups

By Mineta Suzuki

Words like “action” and “solidarity” are on the tip of the tongue of most Grinnell students. But a new student activist group, United, offers a fresh perspective on the ever-growing demand for social justice.

“What makes us stand out is that we focus more on bridge building. We are trying to bring different activist groups on campus together, so that students can have a clear idea about how activism is going and what they can do to promote these causes,” said Zijun Xu ’20, an organizer of United.

As the poster advertises, United stresses community building as a form of resistance. In their vision, such a community recognizes both the urgency and diversity of the students’ concerns.

“There are a ton of issues that directly affect the students here and that students want to work on. I feel like a lot of student groups … would focus on one issue at a time, but there needs to be a place where these [issues] are constantly being talked about and worked through,” said Gracee Wallach ’20, a co-founder of United.

As they develop relationships with existing organizations and recruit more members, they also  reflect on the current landscape of student activism.

“There are a lot of groups coming up with ideas … but there is a lack of organization. So this is more like a way to get all these people together, all the voices to be heard, but in an organized manner,” said Indira Kapur ’20, another organizer.

Their interest in forming a new club grew in the aftermath of the election. Some critics argue that social media largely influenced the election, but many protests and organizing also began on social media, including United.

“[In November,] Gracee [Wallach] posted something on Facebook … she was really passionate about getting together a group of people who are interested in the same cause. I remember just individually sending her a message and next day she made a Facebook group with all the people who reached out to her,” Kapur said.

Although the post-election chaos helped form the group very quickly, the organizers have taken their time to decide what to do.

“We were originally thinking about doing … workshop-type things like facilitated discussions and teachings. After the break, we came back and met up to reevaluate our goals,” Wallach said.

In order to pin down their approach, they discussed their own experiences as well as diverse sociopolitical backgrounds.

“I’ve been a part of a lot of community talks. I’m Jewish, so I’ve been to a lot of Jewish bases that have dedicated talks to racism or justice like that. I think that those have been really powerful tools for building a community,” Wallach said.

“Back in India, I did a lot of protests and activism. But coming to America as an international student … I want international students’ voice to be heard. That was my whole motive,” Kapur said.

In fact, three of the seven organizers of United are international students, a unique composition for a student group not explicitly related to the needs of the international student community.

“I also did some activism and organization back in China. And it’s a fine line in China. I wish to bring my experience to the group to tackle the new hostility in this [current] political context,” Xu explained.

Their inspiration comes from within the College, especially from the classroom. Many courses at Grinnell encourage students to apply their knowledge to the real world.

“This semester, I’m taking Politics of Congress. So we get to learn how congressmen think about their constituencies and how they react to the concerns of a district. That’s very helpful in trying to do call-in events or participating in town hall meetings, because you get to know what these legislators you are trying to influence are thinking about,” Xu said.

United has already hosted a call-in event and a general meeting, in which they gauged students’ engagement and issues of concern.

“We are just excited for people to come and have this be a space where people can bring what they want to see on campus … and individual issues are going be heard, acted on and supported,” Wallach said.

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