SOLR, AUB Secular Club members discuss connecting global student activism

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Daily file photo by Alec Carroll

Kresge Hall, where some Middle East and North African Studies classes are taught. SOLR and AUB Secular Club activists discussed activism on their respective campuses and took questions from attendees.

Yunkyo Kim, Campus Editor

Despite an 8-hour time difference, members of Students Organizing for Labor Rights and the American University of Beirut Secular Club discussed the importance of interconnectedness in campus activism during a Monday event.

The talk, aimed at connecting student movements, was presented by the Middle East North African Undergraduate Group and moderated by Northwestern University in Qatar Prof. Sami Hermez, director of the Liberal Arts Program at NU-Q. Student activists discussed activism on their respective campuses and took questions from attendees.

Lara Sabra, AUB Secular Club president, said the organization started in 2008 to practice politics “separate from, but also opposed to, the sectarian binary.” The club seeks to advocate for causes under the umbrella of sectarianism, such as feminism, anti-racism, environmentalism and freedom of expression, she said.

“We’re joined together by our main goal — to fight for a secular, democratic and socially just society,” Sabra said.

The organization’s initiatives include campaigns for student government elections, events and protests. In the last year, Sabra said, the group organized a strike against increases in tuition at AUB.

SOLR, founded in 2018, has focused on supporting workers through the pandemic, particularly through mutual aid campaigns. SESP senior and SOLR member Rachel Kwak said the group works to build solidarity between students, many of whom are low-income, and campus service workers.

“It started with some students who want to show some love, and show that service workers deserved a lot more than they were getting in terms of treatment from the university,” Kwak said.

Members of both organizations agreed that labor issues, particularly those regarding service workers, prevailed across NU and AUB campuses.

Hermez asked the student activists how they see connections between struggles of students in the United States and those in West Asia or Lebanon.

Furthermore, Hermez wanted to know how organizers may see student mobilization across campuses as part of global movements that span history.

“The organizers, I believe, want to draw on these shared visions for another world from these shared struggles for institutional transformation and for social justice, to start a conversation across global time and space,” Hermez said.

The event served as a chance for student organizations and activists to voice shared struggles and offer support, Hermez added.

When it comes to connecting local demands to broader movements, Sabra said AUB Secular Club derives inspiration from student organizing in other countries. However, there are some limits, she added.

Instead of a student council, the council at AUB is composed of students, administrators and professors, Sabra said. This hinders the secular club’s ability to express dissent to the university.

Neva Legallet, SESP sophomore and SOLR member, said SOLR imagines a future for the University that goes hand-in-hand with abolitionist groups like NU Community Not Cops.

Legallet said this global perception is oftentimes framed as unrealistic, devaluing SOLR’s work and necessity for existence.

“What also frustrates me about it is the perception, I think, from the institution, that this is something that can be graduated out,” Legallet said. “That deligimizes the importance of our work.”

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