Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review

Fifty years ago in Greensboro, N. C., four black college students walked up to a lunch counter and tried to order some coffee. When the waitress told them that they had to sit at the “negro end” of the counter, the men refused and remained seated until the counter closed later that evening.

From that one simple act of defiance, a student movement to fight racism and injustice throughout the southern United States was born.

The movement toward racial equality has made significant strides since that fateful day in 1960, and to celebrate that crucial event, as well as encourage students to become activists, the Associated Students Social Issues Resource Center, along with a number of other campus groups, will host the 50 Years in Student Activism Conference from Nov. 1–5. The free conference will feature speakers, workshops, film screenings and student panels.

“This event is important because it recognizes the contribution of college students, like us, to the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s,” said Alekz Wray, SIRC coordinator. “[It is] an opportunity to look back on the activism that took place during the generations of our elders and really think about what the state of activism today: what it looks like, how has it evolved, what works, what doesn’t work and how involved people are nowadays.”

On Monday, Nov. 1, the conference will host keynote speaker Sean Arce, director of Mexican-American studies for the Unified Tucson School District. He will be discussing his work to preserve ethnic studies programs in Arizona after the state banned them in April. Arce will be speaking from 7-9 p.m. in Academic Instructional Center 210.
Wray said he hopes that Arce’s keynote speech will spark conversations about why activism is relevant in society today and how people working for different causes can come together to help one another.

From 6–9 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2 in AIC 203, the Activism 101 Workshop and Network event will teach students the basics of how to become activists.

“During our Activism 101 workshop, people will benefit from learning more about the different forms activism they can take up and what they can do to help their causes,” Wray said.

AS Vice President of Academic Affairs Ramon Rinonos-Diaz said that since activism can take so many different forms, some students may engage in activism for a particular cause without even realizing they are doing so.

“Lots of students work towards evolving systems or creating systems or changing issues, and I just think that a lot of students don’t necessarily recognize that as activism,” Rinonos-Diaz said.

From 7-9 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 3 in AIC 304, a panel of professors and student activists from the Bellingham community will discuss activist movements both past and present

Kevin Majkut, director of Viking Union student activities, said that Western students in particular have created a rich history of activism. He said as far back as the 1950s, the AS was active in all areas of university life and that motivation for change is still a driving force within the AS.

“There is a culture [of change] that permeates through campus,” he said. “There is a history that carries through to today.”

From 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4 in VU 552 the documentary “Eyes on the Prize” will be shown. The film focuses on the sit-ins orchestrated by student activists 50 years ago.

The activism conference concludes on Friday Nov. 5. From 5 – 7 p.m. in AIC 210, a panel of professors, students and community activists will discuss activism on Western’s campus, as well as the movement that led to the creation of the AS Ethnic Student Center.

“So many things we enjoy or benefit from have come as a result of hard work put in by people who had a vision about what they wanted the future to look like,” Wray said. “If we don’t know about activism or if we aren’t putting in the work for movements we are passionate about then all of the work, achievements, and gains of our predecessors have gone to waste.”