The world does not typically operate with an obligation to be righteous or noble. Inequality and unhappiness are simple components of reality. However, that doesn’t stop people from trying to change things.
With systematic movements or social norms, there are often groups that get the short end of the stick. It is human nature to disagree with other humans. The first time someone joins a movement, though, can be empowering. Wayne State Univeristy students have found that while fighting to change the world they live in, they change as well.
Miriam Cuevas-Enciso, Michigan Dreamers for Tuition Equality
Miriam Cuevas-Enciso, a junior majoring in public affairs, emerged as an unapologetic activist after first marching for immigration policy reform in Washington D.C. Her mission is clear: to provoke change that is not only felt at WSU but other collegiate institutions in Michigan.
As a fellow in a non-profit leadership program associated with Michigan United, Cuevas-Enciso boarded a squished 16-passenger van, from Detroit to Washington, D.C. in 2012. The passengers slept, shared immigration stories, and tried not to ruin each other's posters.
“Once we got there, we got to the Union Station. We went in there with our t-shirts that were for immigration reform. So you had like 30 kids coming in, people just staring at you and not everyone knows or is in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, so you are really getting looked at,” said Cuevas-Enciso.
From Union Station, Cuevas-Enciso marched to Capitol Hill and stopped at the foot of the Supreme Court, “There were people with drums. It felt like miles and miles and miles of people. Families, with kids in strollers. I didn’t understand why people would take their babies, but I understood it, being an immigrant and being undocumented. Why it was really important,” said Cuevas-Enciso.
Cuevas-Enciso did not prepare for how long the march was. Her feet hurt so badly that she had to take her shoes off. However, it was easy to forget about her shoes when she saw police officers standing in staggered guard, videotaping marchers on the steps of the Supreme Court.
“They didn’t even allow us to step on the staircase, said Cuevas-Enciso. “It was my first time coming out publicly, being in a public space and saying that I was undocumented and unafraid. But it was the most thrilling thing ever,” Cuevas-Enciso said.
Cuevas-Enciso refers to the event as life-changing. She said that while she was on the bus ride home, she felt so liberated that she could not go home to her Detroit suburb and stay silent.
“I’ve never felt it before. Exhilaration. When I came back, I went into activism full force, and I’ve never stopped. I used to always be afraid of saying who I was, period. That completely changed,” said Cuevas-Enciso.
Cuevas-Enciso now works closely with the Michigan Dreamers for Tuition Equality organization. Together they are working to help create policies that protect undocumented students who are currently liable to pay expensive tuition fees without aid, despite having attended Michigan schools.
“There is no policy that says we can pay resident tuition rates. We have to pay international fees. Which is like a lot, times more. We can’t get financial aid. We have to pay out of pocket,” she said.
They organization has been working on in-state tuition reform for undocumented students around the state. The following colleges have made policy changes: Wayne State University, University of Michigan, Oakland Community College, and Henry Ford College.
Before attending her first march, Cuevas-Enciso was too afraid to admit that she was an undocumented citizen, much less fight for tuition reform at public institutions. Now, she truly is the embodiment of her mantra: ‘Undocumented and unafraid.’
Summer Baraka, WSU Students for Justice in Palestine
Sophomore pre-law major, Summer Baraka co-founded her first organization, the WSU Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) last year. As someone who has always been very passionate about social justice, Baraka said she came to college looking for an organization that stood for something more.
After noticing that WSU did not have a strong student chapter for Palestinian justice, she began the process of starting her first organization from scratch.
“It was tough going through all of the technicalities and logistics of it: drafting a constitution, getting approval and an official organization name,” said Baraka. “Marketing the organization to students on campus, making people want to join and get involved is still the hardest.”
As a Palestinian herself, the present day struggles are extremely relevant and important to Baraka. When there is injustice in the world, Baraka said that she makes it a priority to not only know about it but know what she can do about it.
“I should be able to do things locally that will draw attention to it,” said Baraka.
Her proudest and most successful experience with SJP was hosting their “Right to Education” event. Two college students from the West Bank arrived at WSU to share their experiences fighting for an education while living under occupation. Baraka’s favorite part was seeing how engaging the Q&A session turned out to be.
“I loved seeing people lingering in the area because they were craving to know more. I was really proud to see the huge turnout and people’s interest sparked,” she said.
Baraka is extremely dedicated to making sure that her organization is built upon a strong foundation to encourage further membership and education. According to Baraka, it is a triumph seeing non-Palestinians and non-Arabs willing to come and learn from SJP events.
“The goal is to educate, and not in the passive sense,” said Baraka. “It’s kind of in my blood to have this social responsibility. My whole entire life, I’ve heard about my family and friends back home struggling every day, living under occupation in a warzone.”
Her long-term goal by graduation is to persuade WSU to divest from companies that profit off of the Palestinian conflict by operating on illegal settlements and selling products that facilitate occupation. SJP has been working closely with Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) in an effort to elicit such changes.
“A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. You don’t have to be Palestinian to stand in solidarity with the injustice going on over there, you just have to be human… They’re human beings that wish to live normal lives and not have their occupation define them” said Baraka.
The next SJP event will be hosted in conjunction with the Arab American Museum on November 12th. It will be a screening of a film entitled, The Wanted, including a Q&A featuring its director.
Pooja Chaku, buildOn
Pooja Chaku is a junior majoring in computer science and the treasurer of WSU’s buildOn Chapter. buildOn is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing literacy to inaccessible and impoverished areas and the first organization that truly felt like a movement for Chaku.
“Our mission is to end the cycle of poverty and illiteracy through education and service,” said Chaku. “We fundraise to help build primary schools, but another big part is also helping the community you live in.”
The first time Chaku volunteered at a soup kitchen was when she spent the day at the Detroit Rescue Mission on 3rd street with buildOn.
“It was interesting to see how poverty affects people. This is how they eat and survive, this is their everyday life,” said Chaku, “They were very strict about servings until they call for seconds. They want everybody to get an equal amount of food.”
WSU’s buildOn Chapter partakes in multiple fundraising events every month. They have hosted everything from jewelry sales to bake sales to support their efforts.
buildOn’s network has built up strong connections with the governments of seven participating third-world countries in an effort to transform impoverished communities: Haiti, Mali, Nicaragua, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Nepal. The funds raised by buildOn chapters and partners pay for construction supplies and other logistical fees.
Members of buildOn raise money to travel to these areas on “treks” so that they may participate in the groundbreaking process and connect with the communities they are aiding. Going on trek means living with a host family and helping to build physically the foundation of the school.
While attending the annual buildOn Global Chapter in New Jersey this summer, Chaku had the opportunity to connect with buildOn members from around the country.
“I loved hearing everyone's experiences and seeing how excited they were to be there. People that have gone on trek have gotten the chance to immerse themselves in communities in the most direct way possible,” said Chaku.
She has heard multiple stories of how BuildOn has drastically changed lives with education. Chaku gave the example of substantially decreasing the prevalence of diseases, just by teaching people to wash their hands and maintain good hygiene.
Before the institution of a school, some people couldn’t even write their own names. Chaku said that they when asked for signatures, fingerprints were used as alternatives.
“One of the key things about poverty is the lack of education, those two definitely go hand-in-hand, and buildOn recognizes that,” said Chaku.
Chaku hopes to go on her first trek this summer.
“I want to be involved with buildOn for as long as I possibly can,” said Chaku.
Contact Reporter Aleanna Siacon: (586)354504 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @Aterese11