UT Service and Activist Organizations to Join

Make a difference in Austin and around the world

It’s the first week of school and you walk down Speedway just trying to make it to class on time. Hundreds of organizations shove flyers and clipboards in your face hoping you’ll join their ranks. It can be overwhelming. And, even though you may be stressed out adjusting to college, finding the right org to join shouldn’t be a pain.

There are more than 1,300 groups making a difference in Austin and the world, so you should make the most of your time on the forty acres.

With that many options, there is something for everyone, whether you want to join a Disney-themed club or a Harry Potter fandom doubling as a volunteer organization. Below, we’ve talked to just a few orgs embodying UT’s motto of “What Starts Here, Changes the World.”

And if you still aren’t sure about where to find your place at UT, no need to worry. Most of these groups will be at Party on the Plaza on Sept. 5 at Gregory Gym Plaza and Speedway Mall. You can also go to an information session to find out more about these groups, or any others that pique your interest. These organizations aren’t going anywhere, so feel free to take your time when choosing the right one for you.

Members of Jolt Texas stand on the steps of the Texas State Capitol in protest against SB4, the "show me your papers" law. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

UT Austin Jolt Student Chapter

Jolt Texas is a nonprofit empowering the Latinx community across the state. It regularly collaborates with its student chapter at UT to garner social change and justice throughout the local and state governments. It was created in 2016 to fight back against the Trump administration and its policies. And make no mistake, though relatively new, Jolt is energetically growing.

At rallies and protests, you will almost always see UT members there, speaking words of encouragement or opposition on the Capitol steps. It resists SB4, stands with DREAMers, and lobbies for the separated families at the border. Whether these activists use art, dancing, or notably dressing up in quinceañera gowns, they always find a creative form of resistance.

Fervently believing the power of change takes place at the voting booths, Jolt also mobilizes and registers disaffected Texans at every event it partakes in.

Anyone is welcome to join. You just have to care about the issues affecting millions of people right now. “I myself am not Latinx but I know that my friends have been affected by certain policies, and I would like to be there as an ally,” says Pili Gyasi, an administrator of the UT chapter.

Courtesy of Lillian Mauldin

With more than 7 million members Texas Amnesty International

Amnesty International is the world’s largest grassroots human rights organization, so it’s no surprise the nonprofit has a UT chapter. Working to address the oppression of rights on a domestic and global level, you can be sure to catch Texas Amnesty International members handing out petitions and writing letters of protest to governments on behalf of prisoners.

Through its annual Write for Rights event, the students assist in freeing prisoners who are being detained because of their political or religious views.

“When we get together they receive thousands of letters if not millions from all these chapters around the world, so the huge influx really makes a huge difference and impact,” says vice president of the UT chapter Lillian Mauldin.

These human rights advocates also hold an annual benefit concert, where all the proceeds go to a local organization of their choice. And they participate in the yearly march to abolish the death penalty, and they protest wherever human rights violations are taking place.

“This type of work is the basis and groundwork for change in our society, and I think it really starts through grassroots movements, and that’s really what we’re all about,” says Mauldin.

Courtesy of Nitya Chivukula

Generation UN - UT Austin Chapter

Generation UN is the sister organization of the United Nations and has student chapters spanning all across the country. This coalition works on exposing the younger generation to the 17 sustainable development goals the UN created in order to achieve a better future for the planet and the people on it. This blueprint includes ending poverty, hunger, and inequalities, as well as promoting quality education, gender equality, and a sustainable environment, among other matters. And it hopes to do all this by the year 2030.

With goals such as these, it’s no wonder the UN needs a little help from its student chapters. UT’s Gen UN was founded just last year, and already has over 60 members.

“What really attracted us was that Gen UN was encompassing varying goals, not just focusing on one thing. And we thought that was something UT was lacking,” says Nitya Chivukula, president and co-founder of the UT chapter.

The org takes on large service projects each semester. In the past, the group has spent time at Posada Esperanza, a refugee shelter for women and children. There, its members made the center more environmentally friendly, all while learning more about the families residing there and the refugee experience. The students have also spent time at a housing community for underprivileged families in the Austin area by setting up a carnival, science experiments, and teaching healthy eating habits to the children living there.

These larger events are just part of its dedication to regular community service. It also encourages its members to volunteer weekly with activities such as making sandwiches and handing them out to the homeless community near the university.

But what sets this organization apart from the others is that it you have to fill out an application and go through an interview to join. Sounds awfully selective, huh? Well, President Chivukula says that’s the point.

“The application process is essentially to weed out the people who are trying to use this as a résumé booster and find the people who genuinely want to be part of this,” Chivukula says.

Texas UNICEF members trick-or-treating for UNICEF donations (Courtesy of Bou Silla)

Texas UNICEF

Texas UNICEF is just one of many UNICEF student chapters advocating for and promoting children’s humanitarian rights in 190 countries and territories.

The chapter does this through several initiatives during the year, such as Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, where the students trick-or-treat for donations instead of the usual candy. And the fundraising efforts don’t stop there. The group also organizes a carnival on a day dedicated to universal rights of children. This helps UNICEF purchase gifts and care packages to send to various refugee camps around the world, as well as places suffering from conflict.

Aside from these, it also hosts an event for Red Hand Day to protest the use of child soldiers around the world.

If you’d rather wield change at the legislative level, now is the perfect time to join. In the upcoming year, Texas UNICEF intends to get involved in policy making when it comes to fighting for children’s rights. UT Chapter President Bou Silla ensures us that this org is open to anyone who has a passion for helping and promoting the rights of children across the world.

Courtesy of Kiana Fernandez

Oxfam at UT

Oxfam America works on finding solutions to end poverty and injustices worldwide. The UT Austin chapter is helping do this at a local level. The group volunteers on a weekly basis through activities such as helping prepare meals at a food bank and servicing local refugee shelters.

To raise awareness about homelessness and hunger, the group holds poverty simulations. At its annual hunger banquet, participants who are randomly selected as “lower-class” have to eat beans, while “middle-class” participants get a sub sandwich, and “upper-class” individuals get salad and pasta.

The students also raise funds, usually for the refugee centers they serve.

Currently, the United States only takes in a maximum of 45,000 refugees each year. Oxfam America is committed to raising that cap to 75,000. With that goal in mind, you can be sure to catch Oxfam UT members in heavily trafficked places, such as ACL Fest, getting people to sign petitions to help in these efforts.

Founded in the 2000s, Oxfam UT has around 50 members and is open to anyone. “I think a lot of college students crave hands-on work, and joining clubs like Oxfam can really let them get involved in that work and experience what real change can do,” says Kiana Fernandez, the 2017-2018 UT chapter president.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

UT Austin Organizations, Jolt Texas, Amnesty International, Generation UN, UNICEF, Volunteer, Activism

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