Students advocate for wrongfully-detained scholars worldwide – European Student Advocacy Days 2023

Posted January 19, 2024

On December 14-15, 2023, Scholars at Risk, in collaboration with the University of Trento, the University of Padova, and SAR Italy, and co-funded by the European Union, co-hosted the first-ever in-person European Student Advocacy Days. Throughout the two days, over 200 students, faculty, SAR scholars, civil society representatives, and members of the public gathered at University of Trento for the event, a conference and workshop for students and faculty from SAR’s Student Advocacy Seminars and Legal Clinics.

University of Padova seminar participants present on the Student Advocacy Day they hosted in collaboration with SAR Italy

Seminars and clinics from across the network convened in Trento, including: Bard College Berlin (representing the Open Society University Network seminar); Carleton University; Ghent University; MCI Management Center Innsbruck; University of South-Eastern Norway; Ruhr University Bochum, University of California, Santa Barbara; University of Dundee; University of Padova; and University of Trento.

Students present on their research and advocacy

University of Dundee seminar participants present on their advocacy campaigns

Opening remarks highlighted European SAR members’ long-term commitment to advocacy in support of academic freedom and SAR-Italy’s Student Advocacy Seminar experience. Student participants then presented their research and advocacy on behalf of Scholars in Prison, and on academic freedom infringements. Seminar students discussed their efforts to engage government representatives in advocacy in support of Marfa Rabkova, awareness-raising for multiple scholars through campus newspapers and podcasts, and a campaign featuring multilingual translations of Dr. G. N. Saibaba’s poetry. Legal Clinic students also presented their contributions to a SAR draft submission to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review. Afternoon sessions featuring academic work by SAR scholars and a discussion on avenues for advocacy within Europe followed.

University of Ghent legal clinic participants discuss their work on UN advocacy

Throughout the day, students asked questions of each other, civil society, and SAR scholars and pointed out synergies across team efforts. During breaks, participants discussed ways in which different seminars could collaborate–joint social media campaigns, sharing research on a scholar’s situation, and making introductions to helpful contacts–taking the work from being singular activities into the beginnings of a larger movement.

Words of inspiration from Patrick Zaki

Patrick Zaki speaks at European Student Advocacy Days

December 15 opened with a moving keynote address by former wrongfully imprisoned University of Bologna student Patrick Zaki. Patrick spoke about his personal experience and encouraged students to remember students and activists who remain in prison today–or those who suffer other forms of repression, such as the travel ban on Central European University student Ahmed Samir Santawy. He emphasized the power students can leverage, especially when working together: “I’ve always believed students can make any change, whatever happens. When I thought about my own freedom campaign, I thought about students.”

Patrick was later joined by Gianluca Costantini, artist and activist who created the iconic drawing of Patrick as a means of advocacy, as part of a workshop on storytelling in advocacy campaigns.

Students develop advocacy plans

Drawing on Patrick’s remarks and lessons learned from panels on storytelling and academic freedom advocacy avenues in Europe, students workshopped advocacy campaigns together. The students represented seminars at higher education institutions in eight different countries, primarily from within Europe, and afternoon workshop sessions helped them develop ideas for ways in which they could collectively contribute to a European voice in support of wrongfully imprisoned scholars and students.

Thank you

Attendees speak with one another at the University of Trento

Thank you to everyone who made European Student Advocacy Days a success, including especially: Ester Gallo, University of Trento; Claudia Padovani, University of Padova; Francesca Helm, University of Padova; student volunteers from University of Trento and University of Padova; and our partners at SAR-Italy, European Students’ Union, and SAIH.

Join us next year

SAR’s Student Advocacy Days provides students with practical tools and knowledge to advocate on behalf of imprisoned scholars and the opportunity to collaborate across campuses. Start a seminar on your campus to join us at the next Student Advocacy Days.