Student activists hosted an activism fair outside Columbae on Oct. 6. This was the first fair of its kind since the start of the pandemic.
The fair, which Stanford ACLU member Zoe Tweedie ’25 described as an event “to collect all activist organizations in one place,” highlighted the line between voluntary student organizations (VSOs) and non-VSOs. (Stanford ACLU is a VSO.)
Only VSOs were permitted to table in White Plaza during the activities fair at FestiFall, said Fossil Free Stanford member Christopher Rilling ’22 M.S. ’23.
Instead, activist groups such as Justice for Muwekma and Students Against Imperialism promoted themselves at Columbae, a co-op located on the Row.
Rilling, who tabled at the event for Fossil Free Stanford, said that activist groups have less visibility than other student organizations and have to take initiative with promoting their efforts.
“Oftentimes we’re not VSOs, so we don’t get that sort of easy recognition that other student groups do,” he said.
He said Fossil Free Stanford decided against registering as a VSO as it does not wish to accept University funding, and the group instead receives support from alumni, activist groups and other students.
“Registering as a VSO and accepting funding from the University offers no guarantee that our work will not be funded by the same mechanisms we are seeking to dismantle: immoral and unsustainable profits from fossil fuel extraction and combustion,” Rilling said.
While Sophia Manolis ’24, who is a member of Rethinking Economics Stanford, said that the University as a whole does not provide much support for non-VSOs, she did credit the Haas Center for Public Service for being an important resource. In addition to organizing a retreat with visiting scholar and community organizer Marshall Ganz last year, the center has offered to fund and provide leadership opportunities to student groups and has permitted these groups to use its space, Manolis said.
In order to qualify as a VSO, student groups must meet eight criteria and must be reviewed and approved by a committee of students and staff across various departments and the Office of Student Engagement (OSE).
Snehal Naik, senior director of student engagement at the OSE, said that “most student activist groups will fall within the threshold of qualifying to be a VSO.”
He said that he wants to help student activist groups become VSOs, if that is their goal. He hopes “that if the student activist groups have a desire to become a VSO, that they will talk to our office.”
“When a student comes into our office, our goal is for them to leave knowing how to accomplish their goal. We want to help; we don’t want there to be students who want to pursue this but don’t know how,” Naik said.