Students help fight hate, promote acceptance with SPLC on Campus

Dwyer Freeman remembers reading about the civil rights movement in high school textbooks.

“I had always sensed a sort of finality, as if the [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] and [the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] had accomplished their goals, and there was no more work to be done,” the University of Alabama student said. “‘Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and all the problems were solved.’”

Freeman has since realized there is more work to be done to ensure equal justice and opportunity for all. That’s why she is starting a Southern Poverty Law Center club at the University of Alabama. It’s part of a new initiative – SPLC on Campus – an effort to help college students raise awareness about social justice issues with their peers and become agents of change within their community.

“We’re not as far removed from [former Alabama Governor George] Wallace’s ‘stand in the schoolhouse door’ as we would like to think,” Freeman said. “There is a need for awareness and open discussion, patience and personal connections to fight bigotry and bias present on campus and throughout the state of Alabama. SPLC on Campus will be a very effective way to facilitate this change.”

The SPLC is working with early adopters of the program at several campuses to fine-tune this new initiative to empower college students. The SPLC recently held a webinar to help students learn about its work, and more are planned for the future. Live, in-person events also are being planned.

At Eastern Kentucky University, organizers saw an SPLC club as a way to coordinate activities among groups focused on racial, immigration and LGBT issues. “We decided to start a SPLC on Campus group as soon as we learned of the program,” said Gary Potter, the club’s faculty adviser.

The club seeks to promote the idea that individuals have the power to transform their community.

“We started the SPLC chapter at Eastern Kentucky University with a vision to create not only social change but also to empower individuals to become independent actors of social change,” said club president Adrienne McCarthy. “Like the great civil and human rights activist Ella Baker once said, ‘Strong people don’t need strong leaders.’”