The Real Stuff

Up-close interviews with three young activists.

Sonya Tinsley

While at Emory University, Sonya Tinsley was active in the Black Student Alliance, the Emory Coalition Opposing Hunger and Homelessness, feminist organizations, and student government. She now runs an inner-city mentoring program in Atlanta.

"My senior year at Emory there were a few racial incidents on campus. I realized that there was so much distrust between the various groups on campus, whether it was Jewish students being upset about Nation of Islam students being brought to campus, or Asian-American students feeling slighted, or white students thinking everyone was always complaining.

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"I think it's so critical for these different communities to have a relationship before crises erupt. What happened so many times at Emory was that a crisis would erupt, and you would have people who had never had a conversation before trying to talk about issues that were important to them, and there was just no relationship, no trust there."

Fred Azcarate

Fred Azcarate was president of the student body at SUNY-Binghamton and president of the United States Student Association. He now works for Jobs With Justice, a workers' rights coalition.

"One of the reasons I chose Binghamton was it was really cheap. But at the end of my first year, there was a big tuition hike proposed. I was in the dorm sitting around with a bunch of friends, saying, 'There's nothing we can do,' and someone happened to come by and said, 'There is something you can do. You can come to this meeting.' We beat the hike, and I realized there is something better to do than complain about things.

"It's the people you meet that keep you from becoming cynical. Seeing people get involved who haven't gotten involved before. Being involved in a movement that's bigger than yourself. It really charges your batteries."

Heidi Wills

Heidi Wills was student body president at the University of Washington at Seattle. She is now a legislative aide for Councilwoman Cynthia Sullivan of King County, Wash.

"Seattle was nationally recognized for its recycling program, but the University of Washington didn't have one in which students could participate. They said that this would have to be studied for years, that they'd have to hire consultants.

"So we put together our own recycling project, where every day we had to empty the bins ourselves. We got a recycler to come pick it up. We showed the administration that, yes, students are interested, and while you're deliberating whether we should have a program or not, we're going to do it."