From Moorhead to D.C.

MSUM Activist Educates Students on Social Rights and Politics

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By: Emily Lauinger, lauingerem@mnstate.edu

On Sept. 20 Ponny White, an MSUM junior double majoring in multimedia journalism and political science, boarded a plane to Washington, D.C. for a weekend of lobbying, workshops and talks about social justice issues.

The trip was part of the program Advocate for Youth (AFY), which advocates for issues such as women’s rights, LGBT rights and, most importantly to White, racial injustice.

As an AFY campus organizer, White is an advocate for social rights for young people in the community. White’s duties connect easily with the organizations she’s involved with on campus, allowing her to plan events for both.

Dana Bisignani, coordinator of the Women’s Center, feels that being involved in many organizations on campus is beneficial for White.

“It’s an advantage because it means that she’s really great at fostering collaboration between groups,” Bisignani said.

White is part of many activist groups on campus. She is president of Black Student Union and co-president of Campus Feminist Organization. She’s also an ally for Spectrum and African Student Union and a member of Campus Democrats.

With this background in activism, White was a perfect candidate for AFY when Bisignani pushed her to apply last March.

White met Bisignani spring semester 2018 when she took her women and gender studies course, “Women in Labor.” In-class discussions led to the two forming a great professor-student relationship. It was Bisigani who inspired White to apply to AFY.

When White first applied, she knew nothing about what she’d be doing. She thought it would be a fun internship and would’ve never guessed it was based out of state. When AFY asked whether she wanted it to be a phone or Skype interview, she understood the seriousness of what her role would entail.

Her unique location helped her stand out. While AFY has students located all across the country, they hadn’t had anyone on the Minnesota-North Dakota border.

Right now, White and other campus organizers are on the homestretch as Nov. 6th, Election Day, quickly approaches. Once that day passes, they’re out of a job. With the end so near, White talks about the lasting impact of AFY.

“AFY is almost forever. Being a social justice person is your whole life because the world will always need justice,” White said.

In addition to AFY, White is also a part of Democratic Farmers Labor party (DFL), the Democratic Party in Minnesota. As a campus organizer, she  door-knocks and makes phone calls for DFL.

The biggest part of her job for the DFL is centered on educating college students about candidates and the importance of student votes. To White, politics hold social justice issues, which is what she is truly passionate about. To her, understanding politics is key to being a successful social activist.

In her role, she uses her voice to inspire students to vote and, more specifically, vote Democrat. According to White, getting college students to exercise their right to vote has different challenges than convincing veteran voters.

“I feel like a life coach most of the time. With young people you have to explain the whys and hit their hearts. You have to make them feel like ‘yeah, that’s some real stuff.’ It’s hard as shit,” she said. “It’s ridiculously hard to get people to believe.”

Her location on the border comes with a different and more difficult situation than most. Her job as a Minnesotan campus organizer means her audience is Minnesotan, and while the Fargo-Moorhead area has several college campuses, the largest, NDSU, falls on the “wrong” side of the Red River.

When summer came and Dragons packed up and left, White was left with a nearly empty MSUM campus and a full NDSU campus, which made her job of recruiting Minnesota voters harder.

As a 19-year-old college student, White is frustrated with fellow students who are ready to appear like activists online, but fail to do the most important thing: vote.

“We don’t understand that we’re adults,” she said. “We’re adults now. This bad stuff—we’re going to inherit it and we need to care. We need to work for equality. We’ll all share that meme about it but when it comes down to it, go vote—and no one will do that.”

For someone who has felt like a social activist from birth, political science seemed like a good major for White to add. And when it comes to her other major, multimedia journalism, she found it through a quick Google search.

“I put into Google one day everything I love to do … and Google basically said multimedia journalist,” White said.

White knew that she found what she wanted to do. When it comes down to her dreams, she hopes to write for a magazine where she can combine her passions for social issues and more fun, casual things.

“I want to be the girl who says this is the social issue this week, but also, we’re going to Paris,” she said.

In the end, White just hopes that whatever job she gets, whether it is more political or not, it lets her write. On the other hand, Bisignani has her own thoughts on White’s future career.

“I can’t imagine any future for Ponny that does not involve big things. I think Ponny’s definitely going to go places and I think she’s going to make a lot of change. And I hope she ends up running for office one day,” she said.

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