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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Western social justice groups go digital

Students and community members apart of #ShredtheContract marched from Western’s campus through downtown on Sept. 2, 2018. The group and other social justice groups are moving to online platforms due to COVID-19. // Photo by Suzanna Leung

Social justice clubs and organizations provide support, even with a closed campus

By Ashtyn Gudgel

With Western’s campus closed for spring quarter, many student-run clubs and organizations are unable to meet. However, that isn’t stopping on-campus social justice organizations from providing support to the Western and Bellingham communities.

Shred the Contract is a student-run campaign that aims to end Western’s relationship with Aramark, the corporation that runs Western’s food services. It has been made known to Western students that Aramark profits off of the prison-industrial complex, according to Shred the Contract’s website and social media. Because of this, Shred the Contract has been focusing on providing support to locally incarcerated individuals.

“We’ve spent our most recent digital meetings writing letters to inmates in the Whatcom County Jail,” said Grace Lamonte, one of the organizers for Shred the Contract. “Those incarcerated are among those who are the most at-risk for COVID-19.”

Beth Girma, one of the organizers and members of Young Democratic Socialists of America, or YDSA, has also held digital meetings to talk about current student demands. 

“We’re right now talking about our demands for cuts in housing, tech and tuition fees for all students at WWU,” Girma said.

However, the organization that both Lamonte and Girma have been putting the most effort into is the WWU Community Aid Group, which is run by Lamonte, Girma and fellow Western student Kelli Hall.

“WWU Community Aid is a mutual aid organization run by WWU students that gives aid without expectations,” Girma said. “We are based on trust, and trust for others’ needs.”

The group, which is largely organized through their Instagram page, is focused on raising aid for students of color, queer students or disabled students that demonstrate financial need. 

“WWU Community Aid exists to prioritize the marginalized voice,” Lamonte said.

The group raises money through posts on their Instagram page with a description of specific situations. These situations range from paying rent to car insurance.

The description is then followed by a Venmo account that is used to collect money. “Venmo has been very critical during this time, since we can’t collect money in person,” Girma said. 

WWU Community Aid has also made use of Google Drive, where they can share important information regarding COVID-19, flyers and resources that will provide support.

When adapting their organizations to a digital platform, WWU Community Aid is the easiest, according to Hall. “This hasn’t been hard to be just digital, since it’s mainly existing online,” they said.

Working through a digital platform has come with its own challenges, but Hall stressed the importance of collaboration. “When making this transition, it’s important to reach out to existing aid groups,” Hall said.

Shred the Contract, YDSA and WWU Community Aid have been working together on various projects. They post what each group is working on to their respective social media pages. 

“Working with other groups is a huge part of community aid, so why not collaborate?” Girma said.

The three organizers also stressed the importance of quality over quantity. “One thing we’ve definitely learned through this process is that followers definitely don’t equal impact,” Lamonte said. “We have to be less focused on numbers, and work with those that will actually help.”

In the distressing times of an international pandemic, the organizers of all three groups defined what their goal was once they reached the end. “We exist to pool our resources together to help each other,” Hall said. “It’s important to focus on marginalized folks and to center their voices.”

Shred the Contract Social Media: @shredthecontractwwu
YDSA Social Media: @wwuydsa
WWU Community Aid Social Media: @wwucommunityaid

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