USI holds annual activist academy for students

The event targeted students who might be aware of issues they would like to tackle, but unsure of how to go about doing so.

IMG_6972Students from all over the country gathered in Trinity on Saturday for the Union of Students in Ireland’s (USI) ‘Activist Academy.’

The academy, which is run annually, aims to encourage more students to get involved with activism and teach them some of the skills necessary to run an effective campaign.

The event targeted students who might be aware of issues they would like to tackle, but unsure of how to go about doing so. However, students were encouraged not just to become active themselves, but to use their skills to motivate others as well.

The day-long event featured a diverse range of speakers from various organisations, including trade unions, NGOs and multinational companies.

Workshops focused on practical aspects of campaigning, such as networking, media, lobbying, fundraising and building a strong support base.

On arrival, participants were provided with a comprehensive guide to planning and executing a campaign, put together by USI.

USI president Kevin Donoghue, opening the event, claimed that change usually comes from a small group of people and that it only comes from those who show up. This point was reiterated throughout the day, as each speaker highlighted what individual students could do to effect change, whether in their society, college or nationwide.

Kingsley Aikins, the CEO of Diaspora Matters, began the day with a talk on networking, noting that while everyone recognises the importance of networking, no school, college or corporation actually teaches how to do it. His detailed lecture explained how to create and maintain a strong, diverse network of relationships, both personal and professional.

Dave Curran of SIPTU and Ronan Costello, a former Trinity College Students’ Union communications officer, spoke about how to deal with the media, in both its social and “traditional” forms. Students were taught how to create a successful social media campaign, organise photo-calls, write press releases and plan provocative stunts.

Peter Gaynor of Fair Trade and Declan Egan from 100minds discussed the more practical sides of campaigning, giving talks about lobbying and fundraising, respectively.

Finally, Laura Louise from SeeChange closed the day with a workshop on getting and keeping volunteers involved in a cause.

Answering questions at the end of the event, USI vice president for campaigns Dan Waugh, when asked whether he thought the today’s students are more apathetic than previous generations, replied with a resounding “no,” citing the recent marriage referendum as evidence.

The key to getting students involved, he claimed, is a combination of “message and phrasing.” In order to get students motivated about an issue, he said, it needs to be something the majority of the student body wants and an activist needs to engage with individuals and show them why it should matter to them.

While the event has been held over a weekend in previous years, it was condensed into one day this year to facilitate students travelling from outside of Dublin.