Students in Action: Young campus activists discuss their journeys in social movements at SUNY New Paltz and beyond

From the Civil Rights era of the 1960s to the social justice movements of today, SUNY New Paltz has a long, storied history as a home to students who advocate for the causes they believe in, on and off campus.

That tradition is alive and well in 2023, as evidenced by the recent Students in Action event, part of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Without Limits series, which highlighted the work of some of this generation’s student activists. 

Whether it’s hosting a forum on anti-Asian hate in America or addressing immigration issues through an internship, students today are active in a variety of social causes.

Four student panelists shared their experiences about their journeys into activism with a full audience and panel moderators Karla Vermeulen, associate professor of psychology and deputy director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health, and Anna Gjika, assistant professor of sociology. 

The result was a dynamic conversation about how experiences on campus, and current events in the world around us, have motivated these young leaders to work for change within their own communities.

“There are just so many issues requiring our attention and activism,” Vermeulen said. “We’re here to talk about what motivates our student panel to get and stay involved in a fight around the diverse issues that they feel passionate about.”

“Your efforts can be seen and heard”

From left: Psychology Associate Professor and Institute for Disaster Mental Health Deputy Director Karla Vermeulen, Nyah Estevez ’23, Annalynn DiMarco ’24, Jade Wong ’23, Leona Omozore ’25 and Sociology Assistant Professor Anna Gjika 

One of the themes of the Students in Action discussion that panelists returned to time and again was that students truly do have the ability to help bring about positive change, here on campus and beyond.

Jade Wong ’23 (Sociology) spoke at length about her experience as a key organizer of the fall 2021 forum on anti-Asian hate in America, which created space for students, faculty and staff to share their experiences in the wake of a national wave of discrimination and violence that included a shooting at an Atlanta spa where most of the victims were of Asian descent.  

Beyond establishing a platform for students to speak and be heard, that forum also generated findings that were incorporated the following year in a process of updating the interdisciplinary Asian Studies program curriculum with new seminars and a more robust capstone experience for seniors. 

“It is rewarding to know that your efforts can be seen and heard,” Wong said.

Nyah Estevez ’23 (Political Science) has followed a different route through advocacy, with experiences in her classes sparking interest in working with organizations including For the Many, the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) and the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York’s Farmworker Law Project to leave her mark on the University and the surrounding community.

“After I started taking a class on social movements, I thought about my own role within the American system and how I could affect change,” said Nyah Estevez ’23 (Political Science). “Then I just looked for local opportunities to get involved.”

Today, she serves as president of the University’s NYPIRG chapter, a nonpartisan student group that works on causes ranging from voting rights to food insecurity.

Another common topic of discussion at the panel: Fighting for social change is emotionally and physically draining work that can lead to feeling burnout at times. Students shared ideas for how their peers can combat the fatigue that often comes along with dedicated advocacy

“I think it’s important to talk about how you’re feeling with other student activists,” said Estevez. “That way, you feel as though you’re not alone.”

Through these experiences, they often build solidarity with fellow students. The panelists described New Paltz as a place where they can get involved with various causes that are often linked together, from voting rights to environmentalism to social justice.

“One of the best things about being at New Paltz is recognizing that there are a number of different clubs and communities representing different causes that all intersect,” said Wong. “Getting involved in environmental activism as a Sustainability Ambassador has helped me realize that all of the causes we believe in have commonalities.”

The panel concluded with some words of advice from these student leaders to peers who may be looking for their own pathways into activism and engagement through campus organizations.

“I encourage you to learn more about different clubs on campus, stay in contact with your professors and look for internships that align with your interests,” said AnnaLynn DiMarco ’24 (Political Science; Black Studies).

Students who are interested in searching for advocacy opportunities at SUNY New Paltz might want to start on Engage, which has information about the more than 200 active student clubs and organizations at the University.  

About Without Limits: Interdisciplinary Conversations in the Liberal Arts

SUNY New Paltz’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences offers this series to make connections among the many aspects of the liberal arts while inviting campus and community partners to investigate the meaning and role of liberal education in the 21st century.

The theme for the 2022-23 academic year is “Intersectional Activism across Generations.” Each of the discussions delves into how the liberal arts can illuminate activism through multigenerational and intersectional lenses and connect people with opportunities to do activist work in our local and global communities.

The next Without Limits event will be “A Conversation and Book Signing with Carmen Maria Machado,” April 11 from 5:30  – 7 p.m. at Lecture Center 100. Click here to register.