Spring semester Intern Jessica Johnson attended the conference – here is a summary of her experience:
“When I first arrived at the Building Unity conference, I was excited and intimidated all at the same time. I was surrounded by passionate student leaders that came from all over the state of Wisconsin in hopes of learning more about student rights in higher education. Each individual and group was representing different student organizations and governments, all trying to achieve one thing: building unity among schools, associations, and the students we represented.
“It was a weekend of inspiration, hard work, and networking, all with the goals of providing the tools necessary for students to build student movements to include people from all walks of life; provide a safe space and open forum for people who are faced with discrimination in school and our communities; and to encourage discussion and action among these leaders to improve the experience of higher education for all people.
“The line up of speakers for the weekend couldn’t have been any better. We started out with a hard-hitting and what you could call brutally honest presentation by Emilio De Torre, Director of Youth & Programs at the ACLU of Wisconsin. He discussed the a range of issues the ACLU and the ACLU of Wisconsin work on, including addressing structural racism, protecting student free speech, LGBT rights, and contraceptive equity. The presentation enlightened student leaders to issues they may not have known before while also providing inspiration and encouragement to do something about them.
“Throughout the weekend we were able to attend workshops which ranged from getting organizational tools, building membership, and issue awareness. Each workshop was taught by a student or community leader. They covered topics from media representation, lobbying basics, the D.R.E.A.M. act, and various other topics. In one weekend alone I learned how to diversify my student association, how to lobby my legislature, what a feminist looks like, and the pressure put on LGBT student athletes, just to name a few.
“The next day after workshops, Tim Wise spoke strongly about white privilege and the role racism plays in our society today. With conviction and confidence, his words allowed us to look critically at how we individually and as a society address oppression and to understand in what ways we perpetuate it by ignoring the problem. You can read Tim’s compelling blog on his website.
“The last speaker, Chancellor Wilson, ended the conference with a moving autobiography. He connected the idea that we as individuals have the capability to achieve our goals and to fight the oppression that many face while still being able to embrace who we are. With his history of growing up black in the South and the obstacles he had to overcome ended the conference with one last bit of inspiration and hope. We as individuals and as student organizations can overcome obstacles if we face them head on and continue to unify in the fight against the oppression of countless numbers of people.
“At Building Unity, I discovered forms of oppression I once had been oblivious to. With this discovery, I was also given a set of tools to confront these issues both as an individual and as a student leader through the ACLU Student Alliance. I left with connections to other campus groups that were looking to achieve goals similar to mine, and was able to share ideas and discuss plans to really work towards action. The conference in my mind was a success. I left knowing more than when I came and felt more confident in what I would now be able to achieve as a progressive student leader.”
Find out more about internships, ACLU Student Alliances and civil liberties activism by emailing our youth program or visiting the ACLU of Wisconsin youth program's website.