Student Resources

How to Be A Student Activist

Student activism is work done by students to effect political, environmental, economic, or social change. It has often focused on making changes in schools, such as increasing student influence over curriculum or improving educational funding. In some settings, student groups have had a major role in broader political events. Nowhere is the student voice more apparent or student efforts more applauded than in Iran, where students are taking to the streets in protest and organizing on campuses and via the Internet.

Like our friends in Iran, the Iranian-American student community can also play an important role in shaping opinion and policies. Here’s a guide on how you can organize your fellow students to take action:

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Get Informed on the Issue of Interest. As a student group or leader, it is incumbent upon you to be properly informed on the issue at hand. Make sure you have a fair and balanced approach to issues. Don’t just rely on your usual news outlets – diversify your information, so you can be informed about the various opinions on the issue. This will help you be better prepared to address concerns from the opposing side. For example, if you always watch CNN, try also watching FOX. Or, if you only read the NY Times, try also reading an international source like BBC online. You should also read opinions of bloggers as they can give you an interesting take on current events and policies. Some foreign policy blogs include:

**Note – NIAC is not responsible for the views or opinions expressed in the aforementioned blogs.**

For access to news articles and analysis on policies as well as related legislation and resources, visit the “Policy Positions” tab of the NIAC website. If you still need information or would like help interpreting policies, contact the NIAC policy team via email at campus@niacouncil.org.

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Determine Event Goal/Purpose. There should always be an underlying purpose or desired outcome for each event. Is it to take action on the student visa issue? Is it to raise awareness about discrimination experienced by someone you know? Is it to show your opposition to going to war with Iran?

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Determine Your Target Audience. Who are you trying to reach with this event? Is it your members of Congress? Your local city council members? Your county representatives? School administration? Is it the international community? Consider your audience when crafting messages. By customizing your message, you will have a greater impact with your target audience. Determining your audience in advance will also help you determine the most effective and efficient ways of reaching them.

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Determine Most Effective Mode of Action. Will you be organizing a letter writing campaign to your elected officials and/or local papers? Are you organizing a student protest or forum? Your mode of action depends on your event goal/purpose. For example, if you simply wish to raise awareness, you can organize a protest or forum. If you wish to change a piece of legislation, you may want to consider organizing a letter writing campaign to your elected officials or schedule an in-district meeting with your representative.

  • For guidelines on how to write your editor, find your representative and existing NIAC letter campaigns, visit the “Take Action” tab on the NIAC website.
  • If needed or requested, NIAC staff can organize a conference call to go over the issue and help prepare talking points which can be used during in-person meetings and for written communications. Please notify us in advance if you’re interested in this service, so we can plan accordingly.
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Assign Tasks. Part of being a student activist is the ability to lead and bring others together to effect change. You can’t do it alone, so be sure to engage your fellow students and keep them involved in the planning process. Make sure team members’ roles are clearly defined. In fact, you’ll probably want to create a check list of all event-related activities. Regularly check-in with all team members to make sure small milestones are met and everything is proceeding according to your schedule. If, for example, you are organizing a protest, assign one person to handle the location logistics – where/when will the event take place? Do you have permission to be at this location? Assign another person to handle outreach – can you include any other natural allies in the protest? Will they help you spread the word?

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Develop Outreach Strategies to Increase Interest. Keeping your budget and target audience in mind, determine the best way to spread your message or publicize your event. Is it an electronic invitation (e.g. email)? Posters? Formal invitation? Facebook event invitation? Twitter post? Always remember to follow up with your invitees to make sure they received the invitation, and to gauge interest and attendance. (Reminder emails the day of the event are always a quick and easy way to increase attendance.)

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Evaluate Event. After the event is complete, set aside time to evaluate the success (or potential pitfalls) of the event. What went well? Did you meet your event goals? What could be improved? Is there any follow up required either to make payments or return rented materials.

 

Suggested Political Events & Activities

The following is a list of suggested events and activities you can organize on your campus to raise awareness about an issue of interest to you:

Blog

By creating a blog, you will make sure your voice is heard not only on campus, but also to the national and international communities. Create a student activists blog for your university where your group can post opinions on current events in Iran and the United States as well as policies and issues affecting the Iranian-American community.

  • Creating a blog is easy. There are many sites you can use. We recommend you set a blog at WordPress.com or Tumbler.com.
  • Maintaining a blog may take a little more work, but your efforts will be rewarded. Make sure that your blog is not just maintained by one person, but several people in your group who are genuinely interested in writing. This will ensure that your blog is always up to date and that your voice is being heard.
  • Once you have started your blog, make sure to share it with your friends, family, classmates, on facebook, twitter, and other blogging websites.
  • Get in the habit of commenting on other blogs as a way of increasing your exposure and drawing attention to your comments.

Mock Debate

Schedule a mock debate between your organization and another who has an opposing view. This is a good and interactive way to have a healthy discussion on issues or news that matter to you. What you’ll need:

  • Choose an issue, candidate, or piece of legislation to debate.
  • Assign roles for the debate. For example, if you are discussing an issue assign two people who will speak for the issue, two people who are opposed to the issue and an independent moderator to help guide the discussion. If you are doing a mock debate between candidates, assign someone to represent each candidate. You can also pick individuals to represent members of the media to pose questions as well as individuals to serve as the candidates’ campaign teams to prepare sample campaign ads and help prepare the candidates for the debate.

Movie Night & Post-Screening Discussion

There are a lot of movies – especially Iranian films – with political undertones. You can organize a screening of the film, followed by a discussion on the film’s message and meaning. This is a good way to use the art world to help expose students to politics and policy.

In-District Meeting with Your Representatives

One of the best ways to get the attention of your elected official is by organizing an in-district meeting with your representative. If you decide to do this, please contact us so we can help schedule and prepare you for the meeting. We do this regularly for our NIAC members, so this is definitely a benefit we extend to our NIACampus members as well. We’ll cover everything from how to prepare your messaging for the meeting, to how many people to include at the meeting, to how to do effective follow up after the meeting. Again, please contact us at campus@niacouncil.org or 202-386-6325 to discuss this option in greater detail.

Letter Writing Campaign to Elected Official

If you are organizing a letter writing campaign, make sure you have sample letters available for your fellow students to use as a template. Also, make sure you provide ample background information on the issue of interest. (e.g. bring copies of news articles, legislation, etc.) Lastly, make sure you know how to identify the individuals you wish to write. Meaning, have their district and capitol office addresses and emails available. Also, call the office in advance to inquire about the name and contact information for the staffer handling that specific issue. Remember that some of these issues can evoke emotion and controversy, so be sure to have a moderator on-hand to guide the discussion, if needed.

Letter Writing Campaign to a Local or University Paper

If you plan on submitting a letter or op-ed to your local paper, make sure you’ve read the paper first! It’s important to know what types of articles and issues they cover. It’s also important to frame the argument in a way that will be beneficial to the readers – not just to you. Check submission deadlines and word count recommendations. Also, consider who will be signing the letter – an individual or the student group? It can be more impactful if there are multiple signatures per letter.

Protest

If you are organizing a protest, make sure you check with your school administration or city officials to recieve the proper clearance in advance. (e.g. some cities require permits in order to organize in a public setting.) Remember that with protests, the visuals are very important. Organize a sign-making party in advance, so you can prepare ample signage with your agreed upon messaging. Send out multiple reminders leading up to the protest via email, Facebook and text. Pick a location with high visibility, such as your student union or city square. Remember that protesting does NOT mean you have to be violent and/or aggressive. In fact, peaceful protests are the preferred and suggested avenues for having your voices heard. If it makes sense, invite other student groups or individuals who share an opinion on this issue and who may be willing to help spread the word.

 

How to Start a Student Group

The following steps will help in your efforts to start an Iranian Student Group on your campus:

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Identify Potential Leadership. Try to find at least one other like-minded student who can help you get the group going. Do you know someone who might be interested in assisting with this effort? Students who are well-versed in campus politics are prime candidates to help the group get off the ground.

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Get to Know Your Campus. Before starting a group or building a presence on your campus, it is important to understand the unique character of your college/university and its student body. Doing so will help you adapt your goals, strategies, programming and activities accordingly. For example, if your campus is considered to be politically inactive, holding a big event or a big action right off the bat is probably not a good way to start. Or, if your campus is known for being intensely polarized on Iran-related issues, you might consider making your first meeting small and closed to the general public, to ensure everyone feels safe.

By getting to know your campus, you can also find out what has worked and what has not worked for student activists in the past. When assessing your campus, consider your student population: Is it large? Small? Is there a significant student activist presence? Are there many events and programs taking place at any one time? Assess the role of Iran on your campus: Is it a source of tension? Are there other minority student groups, such as the Indian, Chinese, or Latino/a Students’ Associations? If so, are there existing diversity events/conferences that you can easily plug yourselves into?

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Identify Key Allies. Allies can be fellow students, existing student groups, professors, and campus administrators and professionals. Use the questions below to think about who might be a useful ally on your campus. You may want to meet with some of these folks before your first meeting, since they may have insight about how to maximize your effectiveness.

Who are your potential allies within the following groups on campus?

  • Progressive groups
  • Multicultural groups
  • Religious groups
  • Interfaith groups
  • Political groups
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Hold Your First Meeting. Your first meeting can be open for anyone on your campus to attend, or an invitation-only meeting for a small group of like-minded folks that have expressed an interest in starting an Iranian student group. A large meeting allows you to gauge campus-wide interest, and a good turnout can help you build energy and momentum; however, getting a large turnout for a first meeting can be hard, so you might decide to start small and build a team that can help you plan for a larger general meeting.

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Become an Official Group. Contact your Student Association or Student Government to find out the steps needed to become an official group on campus. Ask for rules and guidelines for starting an organization that are specific to your campus. Some campuses require you to fill out forms, get signatures, or be voted in. Make sure you know about all of the requirements. Have a mission statement and a contact list of interested students readily available.

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Investigate Cash Flow. Every school is different. Find out how to obtain funding through your school once you are a recognized organization. The Student Government is usually able to allocate funds from the student activities budget to all student groups. Some schools require groups to submit a budget. If so, think about the activities you want to organize throughout the year and estimate the costs. Other students with experience as campus activists can be great resources for providing full insight into your campus’s available funding.

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Set Achievable Goals. When planning events or activities, remember you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Often times, there are existing events that would benefit from your group’s participation (e.g. multicultural performances, multicultural symposiums, etc.) You can also use existing resources from the Iranian-American community to help plan events. (e.g. ask NIAC to host a ‘Demystifying Democracy’ workshop, take students to a locally-sponsored Norooz celebration, etc).

Be realistic for your first year. Set an achievable number of members to recruit, events to host/participate in, and meetings to hold. Make sure you are carefully watching and evaluating your progress.

 

How to Host an Event

Each university will have its own rules and regulations when it comes to hosting group events, but the following is a generic guide to help with the planning process:

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Determine Event Goal/Purpose. There should always be an underlying purpose or desired outcome for each event. Is it to promote Iranian culture? Provide for an opportunity to meet other student groups? Raise funds for the organization? This should be clearly defined, and help guide the next steps in your event planning process.

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Determine Your Target Audience. Who are you trying to reach with this event? Are you trying to create a larger message for the university staff and faculty? Is this simply a team building exercise for your group? Consider your audience when crafting messages. By customizing your message, you will have a greater impact with your target audience.

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Create a Budget. Create a spreadsheet to accurately keep track of your anticipated costs and expected revenues. How much money are you able to spend on planning and executing your event? If costs are not readily available, always ask for quotes in order to be as informed as possible. Provide some padding in your budget, in case there are last minute unexpected expenses.

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Develop Outreach Strategies. Keeping your budget and target audience in mind, determine the best way to spread your message or publicize your event. Is it an electronic invitation (e.g. email)? Posters? Formal invitation? Facebook event invitation? Always remember to follow up with your invitees to make sure they received the invitation, and to gauge interest and attendance. (Reminder emails the day of the event are always a quick and easy way to increase attendance.)

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Create a Timeline of Action Items. Start at the event date and work backwards to create a timeline of action items. Make sure you build in enough time if a special permit is needed, or if you are inviting any special speakers and/or guests. Ideally, invitations should reach your guests’ hands at least two weeks prior to the event.

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Assign Tasks. Make sure team members’ roles are clearly defined. In fact, you’ll probably want to create a check list of all event-related activities. Regularly check-in with all team members to make sure small milestones are met and everything is proceeding according to your schedule. Some sample task assignments include:

  • Logistics Coordinator
    • One of the first activities is to reserve an event venue – this is key because venues are often reserved well in advance. This person is the liaison between the venue contacts and your organization, and should be aware of any special requirements, such as venue insurance, catering rules, times restrictions, etc.
  • Media/publicity
    • This person should handle all the marketing and communications aspects of the event. This person should also coordinate any photos you taken at the event that can be used for your website, Facebook page, Twitter page, etc.
  • Volunteer Coordinator
    • Depending on the size of the event, you may need volunteers to help with “day-of” activities. (e.g. work registration table, work at booth, help with set-up and clean-up, etc.)
  • Lead Event Coordinator
    • This is the main coordinator who will be responsible for all other team members. He/she should have a list of small milestones and carefully keep track of the progress being made to ensure everything is done in a timely manner.
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Evaluate Event. After the event is complete, set aside time to evaluate the success (or potential pitfalls) of the event. What went well? Did you meet your event goals? What could be improved? Is there any follow up required either to make payments or return rented materials

 

How to Hold a Fundraiser

Each university will have its own rules and regulations when it comes to hosting various events, but the following is a generic guide to help with planning and executing a fundraiser:

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Determine Event Goal/Purpose. There should always be an underlying purpose or desired outcome for each event.

  • What is the desired amount you wish to raise? Is this a small event with a $5,000 fundraising goal, or a large gala with a $50,000 fundraising goal?
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Determine Your Target Audience. You need to decide who you are trying to reach and why they should care about your event and your organization.

  • Are you only targeting students? Or, are you also targeting family and friends of students? How about the Iranian-American community in your area?
  • Consider your audience when crafting messages. Why should they donate to your organization vs. another organization? By customizing your message, you will have a greater impact with your target audience.
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Create a Budget. Create a spreadsheet to accurately keep track of your anticipated costs and expected revenues.

  • How much money are you able to spend on planning and executing your event? If costs are not known upfront, always ask for quotes in order to be as informed as possible.
  • Provide some padding in your budget, in case there are last-minute, unexpected expenses.
  • Since the purpose of a fundraiser is to raise money, try to minimize your event costs without compromising the quality of the event. Various ways to do this include:

o Ask local companies or vendors for donations: Will a restaurant donate food for your event? Will a local florist donate the centerpieces or décor? Will a local group or artist donate their time to perform at your event? Will a local print shop donate their printing services for your invitations? If you ask for donations, be prepared to offer something in return, such as recognition in event signage, and invitations and/or free tickets to the event.

o Find a free venue: Some venues (e.g. public libraries, university event space, and private residences) are free. Consider holding your event in a free location.

o Use volunteers to staff the event: If you need catering assistance (e.g. serving food/drinks), see if you can find trustworthy people to volunteer rather than hiring staff.

o Ask local companies or vendors to serve as event sponsors: If companies/organizations do not wish to give an in-kind contribution, ask if they would be willing to serve as an event sponsor. Sponsorship levels and benefits should be determined in advance. For example, a $500 sponsor will get X and Y benefits, and a $1,000 level sponsor will get X, Y and Z benefits.

  • Note– it is best to ask companies to donate before they submit their annual budgets. That way, they can include their anticipated donation in their budget.
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Develop Outreach Strategies. Keeping your budget and target audience in mind, determine the best way to publicize your event. Always remember to follow up with your invitees to make sure they received the invitation, and to gauge interest and attendance.

  • Is it an electronic invitation (e.g. email)? Posters? Formal invitation? Facebook event invitation?
  • Reminder emails the day of the event are always a quick and easy way to increase attendance.
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Develop Event Program. Since the purpose of a fundraiser is to raise money, make sure you have your “ask” developed well in advance.

  • How are you going to ask for money? Why should the attendees donate to your organization? How can you make it entertaining for them? Why should they want to come to your next event? The following are potential ideas for your event:

o Invite influential speakers: The audience benefits from hearing an influential speaker, such as a scholar, poet, elected official, etc. Invitations to speakers should be sent well in advance of the event. Once they are confirmed, you can use their name on the invitation as a means to draw attention and interest to the event.

o Invite unique entertainment: The audience will enjoy hearing a singer, watching a dancer or listening to a comedian. Entertaining events are often very memorable, so be sure to provide some sort of entertainment – even if it’s just soft music playing in the background. If someone special is confirmed, then you can use their name on the invitation as means to draw attention and interest to the event.

o Hold a live or silent auction: In order to hold a silent auction, you must have items donated to your organization. The items are then placed in packages that guests can bid on throughout the night. Always provide a minimum starting bid and suggested bidding levels. For example, a package called “Fun in the Sun” could include a gift certificate to a swim shop, tickets to a water park and tickets for a free boat cruise. Include a catchy description and display of the package. For example, you can use swim goggles, pictures of the beach and/or an inflatable beach ball and sand in the display. The catchier the display, the more likely people will place a bid. For a live auction, make sure you have the proper person presenting. The ‘auctioneer’ should be entertaining and know how to entice the audience to donate. Live auction packages should be larger in both value and worth than silent auction packages. (e.g. dinner with the Dean of the School or a trip to Vegas) NOTE – you have to ask permission from any individuals who will be part of any live or silent auction packages. It takes a lot of time to solicit materials for auctions, so be sure to start several months prior to the event. Follow up calls (and even drop-in visits) are highly recommended. Make sure you have adequate staff to help with the follow up.

o Be sure to give proper recognition to any companies/vendors who are donating items for the silent auction. (e.g. their logo or name on event signage.)

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Create a Timeline of Action Items. Start at the event date and work backwards to create a timeline of action items.

  • Be sure to include program information in your timeline as well. (e.g. secure guest speaker by XX. Secure event sponsor by YY.)
  • Ideally, the fundraiser invitation should reach the invitees hands three to four weeks prior to the event.
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Assign Tasks. Make sure team members’ roles are clearly defined.

  • In fact, you’ll probably want to create a check list of all event-related activities.
  • Regularly schedule team meetings to discuss progress and make sure everything is proceeding according to schedule. Some sample task assignments include:

o Logistics Coordinator

  • One of the first activities is to reserve an event venue, as they are often booked well in advance. This person is the liaison between the venue contacts and your organization, and should be aware of any special requirements, such as venue insurance, catering rules, times restrictions, etc.

o Media/publicity

  • This person should handle all the marketing and communications aspects of the event. This person should also coordinate any photos taken at the event that can be used for your website or Facebook page.

o Volunteer Coordinator

  • Depending on the size of your event, you may need volunteers to help with day-of activities. (e.g. work registration table, work at booth, help with set-up and clean-up, etc.)
  • You will also need volunteers to help with follow up and outreach for securing any donations and sponsorships.

o Lead Event Coordinator

  • This is the main coordinator and will be responsible for all other team members. He/she should have a list of small milestones and carefully keep track of the progress being made to ensure everything is done in a timely manner.
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Do Post-Event Follow Up. After the event is done, make sure you collect any outstanding financial pledges and send ‘Thank You’ notes to attendees, special guests and sponsors.

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Evaluate Event. After the event is complete, set aside time to evaluate the success (or potential pitfalls) of the event.

  • What went well? Did you meet your event goals? What could be improved? Is there any follow up required to make payments or return rented materials.