Effecting change

Effecting change

How do we actually effect the change we want to see for the future? It’s a pertinent question, especially during a time where we’re seeing social issues like climate justice, racism, poverty, and ableism are coming to a head. 

Student Alice Mander took part in challenging conversations at this year’s Leadership Week.

Throughout history, students and youth have been among the most vocal activists for social change—whether it be protesting about the Springbok Tour, the student anti-war protests of the 60s, or through current protests like School Strike for Climate. 

There is no doubt that young people have a hunger for change, but not everyone has the confidence to get involved. The Disabled Students’ Association wants to change this, encouraging everyone to not only participate in social change for the world but also to be their own biggest advocate. 

To have this korero, we invited Pati Umana, Laura O’Connell Rapira, Dr Huhana Hickey, and Jahla Tran Lawrence onto our panel: ‘How To: Self Advocacy’, which took place during the University’s recent Leadership Week. Leadership Week was aimed at empowering and inspiring young people to be at the forefront of generating ideas, setting the agenda, and enacting change. We were so excited to be able to join the conversation. 

The aim of our discussion was for participants to gain the knowledge and skills needed to demand their rights are met, with a particular focus on education and the workplace environment.

The poster for How To: Advocacy, an event that Alice was part of that took place on 28 July 2020 as part of Leadership Week.

Pati found that the traditional method of activism didn’t always hit the mark, which led him into using his music as a way of challenging stereotypes of disabled people and also to innovate the ways in which we seek to make change.

Laura spoke about bringing people power back to democracy and has spent a lot of her time seeking to encourage political engagement. She is passionate about thinking creatively and about making the most of everyone’s talents to affect change in fun, innovative, and inspiring ways. 


The University’s very own Jahla Tran-Lawrence is a self-described ‘ball of rage fighting everybody’. She spoke about sexual violence and violence against women, which has been the topic of her academic work. Jahla’s been a huge force in the student advocacy sector. Jahla is a great example for students wanting to challenge conventional thinking and generate positive change. She sees the power of young people in activism and the important role they have.

Finally, Huhana—Dr Hu, for short—went through life with the stigma that she was “never expected to achieve”. However, as an incredibly decorated academic, disability activist, and role model for all she has done more than achieve. She has effected change.


Huhana spoke about alleviating the diverse voices within the disabled community—ultimately challenging us that “if we stay silent, remember that’s another voice lost in the activism world”.

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington students at the School Strike for Climate in 2019.

The conversation between these four incredible role models was inspiring, eye opening, and passionate. They each challenged us to stay strong to the vision we have of an equal future, speak out against discrimination in its many forms—even if we are the only ones protesting—and always be ready to take up the fight for equality. 

They also encouraged us to find our allies and emphasised the importance of self-care when it comes to community involvement or activism. Ultimately, it was a discussion that reminded all of us about the power we have within. Most importantly, the speakers stressed the importance of collectivity, community, and democracy. This was a particularly pertinent conversation with the upcoming election and referendums. 

Change is best effected as a group. As Huhana says: “Liberals get abused for being ‘snowflakes’. However, a snowflake on its own mels quickly. In a whole bunch, they’re an avalanche.”


Watch this conversation and other sessions that took place during Leadership Week: https://www.wgtn.ac.nz/ethical-leadership/training-and-events/leadership-week

Alice Mander is a third-year Law and Arts student majoring in Scoiology and Film Studies.

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