Student Advocacy: passion for equality

Junior Abigail Bergan has always had a strong passion when it came to equality for all— there’s no doubt about that. Starting when she was a sophomore, she began to dive deep into the world of activism. Her drive pushed her to join Courageous Conversations, a primary alumni group, and later on Be The Change Barrington, a primarily adult group.

However, after spending time within these two communities, Bergan realized that it wasn’t enough. Bergan realized that engaging with just alumni and adults in pursuit of change wasn’t enough. Bergan realized that students needed to be part of the change too.

“So, then I reached out to [junior] Zach [Meyer] and was like, ‘Hey, Mr. Always-wants-to-change-the-world, do you want to do this with me?’ And then, yeah, he said yes. So, that’s where we came from,” Bergan said.

‘We,’ meaning Student Advocacy, is a relatively new student-run club that promotes equality for all. Through Zoom discussions and GroupMe conversations, students interested in making a positive difference interact to exchange ideas and opinions about the equity issues that surround them. The creation of this club can be attributed to two Barrington high school juniors: Abigail Bergan and Zach Meyer.

Bergan and Meyer’s interest in creating a student based equity club stems from a deeper place. Bergan shares her personal reasons and revelations behind her ‘why’ when working to create Student Advocacy.

“I come from a place of immense privilege, for a lot of reasons, but I also recognize that everyone has their own personal struggles. I’m Native American and I’ve had to deal with a ton of like ‘you don’t look Native’ comments. But that kind of put into perspective— what kind of drove me [to create Student Advocacy]— is that there are people who face significantly worse than that every single day,” Bergan said.

Bergan also stated that the murder of George Floyd in May was a turning point for her, causing her to realize that performative activism wasn’t enough. Before coming to the idea of creating a student-based club, Bergan also organized a protest during the summer in Citizens Park with the help of two other girls. Junior Zach Meyer goes on to share his own passions and reasons for speaking out and wanting to make a difference.

“I’m Jewish and I’ve always spoken out and voiced my opinion when it comes to issues with regards to anti-semitism. And, I know Abigail has her own viewpoint and her drive, but really, I was driven by my religion. And, I really think that it was something that I truly cared about. It was something that I loved so much. And I think anything, not just your religion, but anything you’re passionate about— I know this sounds cheesy— but when it comes down to it, if you truly have a drive in your heart and you truly care about it, then you’ll go on to make so many changes in that field,” Meyer said.

Turning Bergan and Meyer’s passion into an actively running high school club was easier said than done, though. Bergan and Meyer both agreed that their journey from taking the idea to actually introducing the club to the high school was mostly completed on their own.

“What I will say is that I did have mentorship from a couple of people in Be The Change Barrington and Courageous Conversations just because the scope of the work they do overlaps pretty significantly with the scope of work that Zach and I want to do. We had a couple of meetings with Dr. McFall, but other than that it’s been pretty independent,” Bergan said.

Upon turning their idea into a reality, Bergan and Meyer discussed the goals and hopes they have for this new student club. Both Bergan and Meyer agreed that they hope to extend their reaches to, not just the students participating in the club, but the people that those students go on to educate and teach, and so on.

Bergan also talked about the importance of critical thinking, saying that early on in their meetings, they hoped to build a foundation for critical thought, meaning understanding topics such as media bias, which was discussed in their most recent meeting.

Bergan added that she felt it wasn’t a good idea to start right away with overly sensitive questions, such as those relating to a person’s internal biases. However, Bergan and Meyer both agreed that they would like to, eventually, talk about more sensitive topics.

The pandemic threw another challenging element in Bergan and Meyer’s goal of educating interested students about equity issues. Meyer talked about accommodating the distant Zoom feeling during meetings with the difficult conversations that Bergan and Meyer believe are so important to have.

“In the beginning, we were kind of just about making everybody feel comfortable in this environment. Especially on Zoom, it’s kind of difficult to get that warm feeling. But, really, on Zoom, we’re trying to get everybody comfortable, not only with having a conversation over Zoom… but being comfortable talking about these issues with each other. Because some of these are somewhat sensitive topics and creating this environment where people can feel comfortable sharing their opinion, whether that be factually based or what they believe to be true— that’s really important,” Meyer said.

Bergan and Meyer hope to use Student Advocacy as a tool to look beyond the surface and past personal privilege to recognize the oppression and hate that does exist. Bergan stated how important it is to truly understand the equity-related hardships that many people face on a daily basis.

“Especially in a place like Barrington where, I think, we’ve all kind of noticed, there’s a culture of like ‘everything is fine and perfect and nothing is wrong because it’s Barrington’…. we definitely kind of want to find that balance between easing into [discussing controversial issues] while also still making sure people are getting uncomfortable— intentionally,” Bergan said.

Meyer elaborated on the ideas that Student Advocacy hoped to shed light on by creating these ‘intentionally uncomfortable’ conversations, saying that their primary focus is to inspire and be the catalyst for change.

As of now, there are currently fifty-two student members of all grade levels, participating in Student Advocacy. With about twenty to twenty-five students attending each Zoom meeting, they encourage more students, looking to promote good change and better understand underlying equity issues, to reach out to them.

“And for people interested in joining our club, just show up to the next Zoom meeting. Follow us on Instagram, reach out to us, talk to us,” Bergan said. “You are always welcome— unless you are promoting hate, in which case you are not.”