Oct 13th, 2020, 07:42 PM

Student Activism in France

By Shandiin Vandervere
"Don't touch my friend" hamsa logo for SOS Racisme. Image Credit: SOS Racisme
"Don't touch my friend" hamsa logo for SOS Racisme. Image Credit: SOS Racisme
Even with social distancing and virtual classes, there are still many ways AUP students can contribute to social movements during the pandemic.

After the summer surge in social movements such as Black Lives Matter, many students at AUP are wondering how they can make a difference while studying in France. While the effects of COVID restrict large gatherings, there are still ways the campus can contribute to the local and global community.

"I got more involved in my local NAACP and Black Lives Matter organizations over the summer, as I think a lot of people did, and I wanted to keep up those efforts now that I'm back in France," says AUP student Mary Noorlander. 

While France is known for being the "country of activism," many American students at AUP spent the summer back in the United States where they experienced mass protests as the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbrey and others sparked outrage against police brutality. The Black Lives Matter movement grew to become one of the largest social movements of the decade. 

Black Lives Matter protesters in North Carolina, Image credit: Unsplash/Keith Helfrich

Still, studying in a foreign country can make students feel disconnected. For students who aren't fluent in French, it can be intimidating to go out and protest in the Parisian streets with fluent speakers. Not to mention, the pandemic makes many students worry about gathering in large groups, even with masks on.

"I think it's very easy to fall into the excuse of 'I'm a broke college kid and I don't really know how I can help these movements or have any real impact, so really I have nothing I can contribute,'" says Noorlander.

Even though AUP is attempting to create more opportunities for students to become activists, it can be hard for students to feel like there are enough resources, especially for virtual students. With that in mind, the AUP community held a virtual meeting last Thursday to highlight the French organization, SOS Racisme, and its efforts to “fight racism, racial discrimination, and anti-Semitism.” Hosted by Professor Annie-Marie Picard and led by SOS Racisme’s vice president Saphia Aitouarabi, the discussion focused on the ways the group has helped advance equality in France.

Original SOS Racisme delegate protesters in Amsterdam. Image Credit: Creative Commons/Sjakkelien Vollebregt

SOS Racisme provides legal assistance to immigrants and minorities facing discrimination from the French government while conducting first-hand published research of societal discrimination. An example used in the virtual presentation was of discrimination by French agences immobilières, or real estate agencies. They have clients who are renting out apartments but who do not want Black or Muslim tenants. Agreeing to this would violate French law, so many real estate agencies comply “under-the-table.” SOS Racisme publishes its findings on this and other issues to raise awareness about systemic racism and to hold these companies accountable. The group also has volunteer opportunities for everyone. Working through the judicial systems, popular education, and the media, they always need virtual volunteers to help their cause.

Another AUP student, Georgiana Sopkovic, who is studying virtually from the United States, was active in local protests over the past few months. "Over the summer I went to many protests in New Jersey and signed countless petitions for justice to the lives lost due to police brutality," she says. After the virtual presentation held by AUP and the Black and Abroad club, she's interested in getting actively involved in the group.


Whether students this semester are attending on-site or online, there are ways at AUP for them to get engaged with important social movements. Because the campus is made of such a diverse collective, students have the opportunity to learn how to support each other and push for equality.

If you are interested in volunteering for SOS Racisme, you can contact them at SOS Racisme.

If you are interested in more ways to help the BLM movement, you can contact Fatima at AUP’s Black & Abroad.