By Ava Lobach
In October 2020, one group of KU students caught the attention of many. An Instagram account called “kuactivists” started making the rounds with its calls for change. Now, the KU Activists (KUA) have amassed over 1,000 followers—and they want their demands met.
The organization – which is not officially affiliated with the university – started after student Paul Berlet asked his Instagram followers if they would be interested in joining a student-led activist group.
Berlet has a history of activism, having been a member of the Healthy Campus Bill of Rights group at KU, which had student and faculty members, but Berlet wanted to create a group where student voices would be the focus.
“Paul wanted to try and form a group of students, so we started asking people and sending messages and trying to gather a group,” said Samantha Marencik, a KUA member. “We wanted to form a group that was able to fight for the demands that they deserved.”
On Oct. 27, KUA made its first Instagram post. Its account became the subject of controversy, as they criticized how KU staff was handling the COVID-19 pandemic. They even sent a letter to the KU administration with a list of demands for the school’s reopening for spring 2021.
According to Berlet, some of these demands have been met, including mandatory COVID testing upon arrival and accessible on-campus testing. Berlet and KUA consider this a victory and continue to push for further demands regarding social justice.
Recently, KUA’s goal has been to hold KU police officer Alan Swartz accountable for his now-deleted Facebook posts, which contained opinions that some students believed were racist and Islamophobic.
“As college students, we are told to monitor what we post online due to the fact future employers could see it,” their Instagram post about Swartz reads. “How can we trust KUPD to protect Kutztown University students if they hire officers who post things like this publicly?”
KUPD Chief John Dillon declined to comment.
Due to the nature of their posts, the KU community is divided on KUA. Their Instagram has caused controversy, with some students and faculty seeing their posts as disrespectful.
“At all times one should respect others – even if they think differently,” said KU President Kenneth Hawkinson. “Little is accomplished through ‘demands’ and their use of profanity and personal attack does not show a sincere desire to resolve differences.”
In an email interview, Hawkinson clarified his stance on activism: “I prefer the word advocacy rather than activism … activism seems ideologically based while advocacy implies expressing beliefs and values that are based on facts and includes respect of others who may not share those values and beliefs.”
The future of KUA is unknown, but they have expressed their desire to continue as a group.
“We are more powerful as a collective than we will ever be as individuals,” said KUA member Bethany Brenner. “It’ll always be a group.”