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'Students are a powerful source of change' - SolidariTee on student activism

After almost a year of pandemic-provoked chaos, the world’s disadvantaged need support more than ever. Student activism for charities may be the answer.

By Kate Bowie, Second Year English

After almost a year of pandemic-provoked chaos, the world’s disadvantaged need support more than ever. I sat down with Rebecca Bradfield, head representative of the Bristol branch of SolitariTee, to see both what students can do for charities, and what the charities might offer to the young people who donate their time.

At Bristol, students have always been on the front lines of charity work. The University boasts over twenty campaigning societies and RAG, the Raising and Giving fundraising arm of the Student Union, was founded ninety years ago. But in a period of unprecedented global turmoil, student activism has been faced with previously unthinkable challenges.

Non-profit organisations on the whole have taken serious hits. One in ten UK charities are facing bankruptcy - volunteers are unable to fundraise in person, donate their time, or even connect face-to-face. This makes enacting change through activism harder than never before.

Rebecca, the Bristol head-rep of SolidariTee, the largest student-led charity in the UK, spoke to me about how Solidaritee has continued to ‘make sustainable change in the refugee crisis’.

The charity was founded in 2017 by then-first-year Tiara Sahar Ataii. After volunteering with a legal aid NGO in Greece, Tiara started selling T-shirts to raise funds for the refugee crisis. Four years on, SolidariTee boasts ‘more than 450 student volunteers from more than 40 universities’.

Despite the challenges of 2020, Rebecca enthusiastically told me that ‘in four months our [Bristol] group alone raised almost £2000, which is incredible’ – ‘for just fifteen of us, it’s ridiculous’.

Good student activism revolves around the cause rather than students themselves.

‘I’m so glad that SolidariTee has been there and raised so much money’ she continued; ‘even before COVID, everyone knew that the position of refugees in society was pretty precarious’.

On top of the incredible struggles faced by refugees and asylum seekers; ‘they’re now suffering a global pandemic that is ultimately unavoidable. Whereas we can stay home and self-isolate, when you’re living around thousands of other people, bed to bed, you can’t escape it.’

When questioned as to how SolitariTee is able to make an impact in such desperate times, Rebecca returned to the students - ‘Students are a powerful source of change.’

‘Student activism does make a difference because we’re one big powerful group’; ‘we’re going out into the world and we’re seeing a world we’re not happy with. We want to be part of changing that’.

As with any charity, questions of where funds go and how recipient NGOs are chosen are unavoidable. Performative activism is an accepted part of the social media landscape, and the interventionalist problems with activism are among the first to be risen. In 2020, honesty is as important as intention in the world of student-led charity.

Rebecca stressed that transparency is a core tenant of SolidariTee’s work. Indeed, all information on funds is online, the t-shirt purchasing page being a click away from the list of their recipient NGOs.

Rebecca highlighted that good student activism revolves around the cause rather than students themselves, emphasising the charity’s efforts ‘in making sure it’s not tokenistic’ and avoiding white-saviourism complexes; instead helping refugees empower themselves. Having said that, the benefits of being involved are undeniable.

‘I think a lot of societies and clubs at university can be quite cliquey and it can be hard to get involved. It was very important for me as the head rep to make sure everyone felt included and got out of Solidaritee what they wanted to’.

Rebecca stressed that transparency is a core tenant of SolidariTee’s work - all information on where funds go is online.

‘It’s been such a treat getting to meet everyone, build this team and hear everyone’s experiences and motivations’ she continued. ‘It just creates such a diverse and powerful group for change. I think everyone brings something different- I adore it.

Rebecca’s advice for anyone looking into getting involved? ‘Do it! It’s so little commitment with such a high reward’. ‘It’s fun, it’s a joy to do, it doesn’t feel like work’ she stressed. ‘I don’t think anyone actually knew each other at the start of this year, so we’ve had such cool relationship building experience and we’ve met likeminded people who we wouldn’t normally get to meet’

At a time when people need each other’s support more than ever, student activism offers relief for everyone involved in it and its mission.

Featured Image: Kate Bowie / Solidaritee