Student activists break down how to adjust to AU’s politically active campus

Whether you’re a seasoned protester or a newcomer, activists say there’s a place for you

Student activists break down how to adjust to AU’s politically active campus

American University students in AU's chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) protest President Trump's decision to end DACA outside the White House in September 2017. 

For any college freshman, the first semester of college brings a lot of change and requires a considerable deal of adjustment. While students must become familiar with their new home and classmates, AU students must also learn how to adjust to a campus that takes the definition of “politically active” to a new level.

The Princeton Review rankings agree: AU was recently ranked No. 1 in the most politically active students category, rising from No. 4 in 2017.

For some incoming freshmen, this is exactly what lured them to AU in the first place. For others, a politically active campus may be a foreign environment. Whatever side first-year students fall on, there are many others who have gone through the same adjustment.

Activism was something that rising sophomore Haley Epping had been vaguely involved in prior to college, but she was more focused on learning about different topics and educating herself. Now she is involved in activism on campus through Fossil Free AU, a student organization that pushes the University to divest from fossil fuels, and AU Students Against Human Trafficking, which aims to create a dialogue about human trafficking on campus.

Epping got involved with Fossil Free AU after seeing a flier for their first meeting, which she attended and enjoyed.

“It was just really exciting to meet passionate people and realize that this is a big issue,” Epping said. “And I love AU, and I do care about AU, but I know that we can do better. So I really wanted to focus on making sure that the University steps up their game.”

While Epping had an impression that activism was a large part of life at AU, she was disappointed in the reality of the activism environment.

“Honestly, people like to talk, [but] they don’t like to do anything about it,” Epping said. “I think that was almost like a disappointment when I came to AU, because I was expecting everyone to be more politically active than me and I could learn from that.”

Ashli Melder, who will be going into her fourth semester at AU this fall, had a similar experience. Melder is the social media chair for AU Students Against Human Trafficking, an issue she has been concerned with since before attending the University.

“I would say that the major thing that I see [here] is political activism, not necessarily activism for a specific thing, but political belief,” Melder said. “I feel like it’s really part of the AU culture to be really gung-ho about what you believe in and try and get other people to believe it too.”

Melder added that she finds that quality of AU culture admirable, but the trait hasn’t led to action. She and her team have found it difficult to get people to consistently attend meetings.

Some members of the Class of 2022 are already planning to bring their prior activism experiences to this politically active campus. One of those incoming freshmen is Tyler Massias, who said he has “heavily been involved in activism in the past.”

“My most recent endeavor was when I organized a March For Our Lives event in the city of Shelton [CT],” Massias wrote in an email. “It was an absolutely amazing experience, and I intend on getting involved in opportunities related to student activism on and off campus.”

Epping advises new students who have little to no experience with activism to “just go for it.”

“It can be scary, but everyone was in that position at one point,” Epping said.

Freshmen should attend the Student Involvement Fair Sept. 5 on the quad to see what sparks their interest, Melder said.

“If you’ve never been involved in activism, it can be hard to know what you want to do, so go to a few meetings and see if this is something that you want to continue,” Melder said. “See what clubs have done in the past and see if there are any skills you could learn.”

Both Epping and Melder feel their college experiences have been enriched by being involved in activism on campus. For Epping, her work helping to run Fossil Free AU’s social media accounts helped her recognize her interest in communication studies, which is now part of her double major. For Melder, activism has helped her see different sides of the AU community.

“It gives me a different perspective of AU culture, trying to be involved and get people more involved in activism,” Melder said. “It just kind of opens my eyes to where AU students are at.”

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