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UWF Students Encouraged To Become Activists

Sandra Averhart

Getting students to become active on their campuses and in their communities is the goal of organizations like Vote Mob and the Student Power Network. The Florida state director of these organizations recently made his pitch at the University of West Florida.

David Caicedo spoke to students in one of the classes taught by UWF Mass Communication Professor Gloria Horning.

“That came about through a young student activist, a member of the SEAS program here, that I was connected to by another activist in Tallahassee,” said Caicedo. “She’s just totally engaged on the campus and amazing and she’s like you need to meet this amazing professor that’s doing great work.”

As it happened, Caicedo was already scheduled to be in the area and accepted the invitation to connect with Dr. Horning, who’s worked in recent years to get environmental justice for Pensacola’s Wedgewood Community. There, residents have long complained about health and safety concerns due to pollution from nearby landfills and borrow pits and Horning has helped bring attention to their plight.

“She’s already been trying to get students involved, you know, had already done a social justice class, and I think our missions met somewhere in between of really getting the students active,” explained Caicedo in reference to Horning.

And, when he talks to classes like Horning’s, Caicedo’s message is to impress upon the students just how important they are and the great value in their voices.

“It’s their community.  It’s their environment, their campus, you know their world; our world,” said Caicedo, adding that today’s youth are our future leaders.

“Getting students to understand that as future leaders, they also have a responsibility and just a calling, even, to get active on the campus and in the community to make their voices heard.”

One of Caicedo’s primary missions in driving across the state and talking to students at UWF, and elsewhere, is to drum up support for the 2016 Power Shift Southeast Convergencethat’s taking place in Orlando this week, September 9-11.

Power Shift connects individual activists to form a network of trained organizers. Since 2007, regional Power Shift Convergences have been held to motivate and inspire participation. Caicedo says the aim is to build a sustainable system of student activism around the state and (southeast) region, noting that students from Tennessee, Louisiana, and North Carolina will be attending.

The young people will be able to learn from this year’s keynote speakers, including former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, who fought for reproductive rights, and Elle Hearns with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Looking beyond this week’s conference, another of Caicedo’s goals is to get out the vote and help young people realize the significance of the election on issues that may be important in their lives.

“Like for me personally, my family comes from Colombia and immigration is just such an important issue for me and poverty,” Caicedo said. “You know, living in poverty in New York City, it’s another issue that just touches so close to my heart and it’s the reason why I vote.”

Caicedo adds that students need to realize that participation in the election is not just about who’s running for Congress or the White House. He says ultimately, it’s the local elections that have more of an impact.

“The presidential policy, whether or not it will touch you now or four years from now, it doesn’t really,” said Caicedo, pointing to the local elections and ballot initiatives. “Whether it be immigration, social justice, or criminal justice reform, police relations, it all comes down to the ballots and really getting students to start seeing elections and caring about elections on a deeper, personal level is super important.”

Once the 2016 election is over in November, Caicedo says it’s back to ground zero for their Student Power Network to give students a platform and the confidence to voice their opinions about what’s happening on their campuses and their communities. 

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.