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Activist Group Looks to Raise Awareness About the U.S. South

Two Harvard sophomores have started a student group dedicated to raising awareness about and effecting political change in the American South.

The new group, called Southerners Organizing Urgent Transformation Through Harvard College, is a “social, cultural, and political student organization concerned with the intersectional enactment of justice in the Southern United States and its communities”, according to an informational email sent on Tuesday by the group’s founder and executive chair Trevor W. Ladner ’20. The club, which uses the acronym SOUTTH, is recruiting members in order to gain recognition from the College as an official student organization.

SOUTTH’s initiatives will include hosting conversations with Southern activists and political figures, sponsoring the work of other organizations like the College Democrats, and publishing political statements. The group will focus specifically on the “areas of economic justice, environmental justice, healthcare, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, religious rights, and women’s rights”, according to Ladner’s email.

Last spring, Ladner began brainstorming for SOUTTH with fellow sophomore Nicholas T. Wyville ’20, who will serve as the organization’s political chair. The students, who hail from Mississippi and Alabama, respectively, said they were inspired to form the club by their experiences as Harvard students from the South.

Ladner says he is determined to remedy a lack of representation of “Southern perspectives” at Harvard, which he believes has left many of his peers uninformed on issues affecting the South.

Wyville analyzed data from a 2017 Crimson feature and found that very few Harvard seniors plan to live in the South after graduating, a trend he says results in “brain drain” and a lack of improvement in the area.

Therefore, a major of objective of SOUTTH is to “convince people who do have liberal views of justice...and who do have a certain leverage going to academic institutions like Harvard to use that power and knowledge to create progress in [the South],” Ladner said.

Though SOUTTH will be a decidedly “left-of-center” political organization, its founders say they also want to create a social space for students from the South. They plan to host parties and pregames as well as arrange celebrations for holidays such as Mardi Gras.

SOUTTH is not yet officially recognized, but Ladner and Wyville said they are hopeful the Undergraduate Council’s Rules Committee will approve the group because of its student interest and mission. As of last Wednesday, 33 students had filled out the club’s interest form, according to Ladner and Wyville.

SOUTTH is looking for students to fill three remaining positions on its executive board, as well as general members. The group’s first meeting will be next week.

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