Voices of Change: Regis University Students Usher in a New Era of Activism

By Wendi Hansen, Writer & Social Media Manager, Regis University

 Regis University Freshman Yael Greene stood before a crowd of nearly 400 students, faculty and staff to honor the victims of the Parkland, FL shooting in 2018 (photo courtesy of Regis University)

Regis University Freshman Yael Greene stood before a crowd of nearly 400 students, faculty and staff to honor the victims of the Parkland, FL shooting in 2018 (photo courtesy of Regis University)

Regis University has a long tradition of positioning its students to think critically about the world and their role in it. Students are taught to focus on the social problems that our communities and the world are facing, and to take action and address the issues head on. Guided by their core values, including contemplation in action and teaching people to be men and women for others, the Jesuits are known for not being afraid to question and challenge the status quo.

While many shy away from the hard topics, Regis students are opening a dialogue, creating discourse and starting conversations on campus and in communities to which they belong.

Enough is Enough

After the unspeakable tragedy in Parkland, Florida, which claimed the lives of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, many students across the country, including those at Regis, walked out of classrooms to protest gun violence in schools and stand in solidarity with students nationwide.

At Regis, nearly 400 students, joined by faculty, administrators and staff, participated in a walkout on their campus in Denver, CO. Standing before the crowd, Yael Greene, the freshman organizer of the walkout, paid tribute to the victims, reading each name and sharing details about that person before asking the crowd to observe a moment of silence.

"Regis will not tolerate the horrific murders of these innocent teachers and students," said Greene, as she addressed the crowd. “We are the voice of change … enough is enough.”

The walk outs led to concerns about disciplinary action nationally but not at Regis.

“Here at Regis, we teach civil discourse and activism,” said University President, Rev. John P. Fitzgibbons, S.J., in a message to the community on February 24. “Student advocacy is a brave step toward justice. We are for and with students who choose to speak up, to participate and to stand for something.”

Regis was among the first colleges in Colorado to issue a statement of support after a Texas superintendent stated shortly after the nationwide protest began that students would face suspensions. The University joined more than 100 colleges and universities, including those of its Jesuit brothers and sisters, to reassure high school students that they would not be penalized during the admissions process should they get suspended for participating in peaceful protests.

Sophomore and student organizer Amelia Rouyer said, “Mass shootings have become far too common in our society. It feels like such a regular thing today and I believe that shootings should never, ever feel normal.”

Safe Spaces

Regis is committed to creating and maintaining a safe and respectful community. The Regis Violence Prevention Program (RVPP), made up in part by students and faculty advisers, is an on-campus and online support network that hosts programs and resources that help to promote healthy relationships, foster a safe environment, and support students who have experienced sexual violence, dating abuse and stalking.

Last spring, RVPP students led an effort to educate and raise awareness about sexual assault. The Consent Carnival brought together a number of organizations across campus to talk about this serious issue in a safe and comfortable space.

Sexual assault is pervasive on college campuses. According to research from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. Equally troubling: 90 percent of those who have experienced sexual assault do not report the crime.

“Sexual assault is such a prevalent issue that needs to be talked about,” said Josie Brady, a violence prevention educator and sophomore majoring in Peace and Justice Studies. “The goal of events like the Consent Carnival is to make sure our University community feels safe and that they are aware of all of the resources available to them.”

The carnival was a big success, with students not only enjoying the event itself, but the overarching idea of promoting healthy relationships and violence prevention through fellowship. Student activists like Brady recognize the need to have more events involving the whole community, since many of these issues exist outside of Regis as well. “There are many issues that need to be addressed and dealt with, like sexual assault and consent, and it is in the students’ voices and ideas that these issues will begin to be resolved,” said Brady.

Celebrating Our Differences

In a world in which our differences seem to set us on edge, Regis believes that they should instead thrive in a learning environment that is characterized by the Jesuit traditions of respect and the pursuit of justice.

One great example of how students are helping to facilitate dialogue that celebrates our unique qualities is the One Book, One Regis initiative developed by the University’s Office of Diversity. Last fall, students were invited to participate in a series of book discussions centered around “Across That Bridge,” by author and civil rights leader, Representative John Lewis (D-GA). The book was chosen for discussion in part because of its focus on Lewis’ recollections from a lifetime of work on civil and economic justice, which offer great parallels to present-day issues regarding race and equality.

The idea for the initiative stemmed in part from Fr. Fitzgibbons’ response to the DACA repeal last October. He highlighted our responsibility as members of a Jesuit institution to examine the “dynamics of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality and culture and the structures that perpetuate the inequities of privilege and power in America.”

The initiative is part of the larger #RUagainsthate social media campaign, which seeks to unite our community around our commitment to justice and inclusion — on campus and beyond.

“Our hope is that the conversations [this hashtag] stirs will move us toward concrete actions that we can take, as we confront division and injustice,” said Nicki Gonzales, vice provost for diversity and inclusion. “We hope to make the program a tradition for years to come.”

Whether is it organizing campus walkouts and peaceful protests, or developing discussion groups and informational fairs, students at Regis not only speak up about the issues that are important to them, they take action. With encouragement from faculty and staff, they continually set an example for what it is to be #JesuitEducated, asking themselves and others, “How ought we to live?”