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Student activism: Reclaiming the narrative

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Student activism is not a new topic of interest for advocates of reform and groups working towards a more empowered electorate.

In 2020, Imagined Malaysia undertook a research project to write and present a history of student activism in Malaysia from the 1930s to the present day, beyond the medium of academic texts, and to create a public resource with accessible materials on student activism.

The research study aimed to capture how student activism in Malaysia evolved and which interests remained the same as the landscape of activism changed across the world, whilst also capturing views on activism from former and current activists.

This talk, organised by Pusat Sejarah Rakyat, will present the findings of this project, including addressing some of the current popular myths about student activism, outlining the levers of change in the student activism space, unpacking the diversity of the groups, and platforming several active groups and their work.

The talk will also highlight some of the challenges of conducting public history work outside the parameters of academic institutions and will end with highlighting the calls to action that can be made from all interested parties.

Presenter: Qaleeda Talib is vice-president of Imagined Malaysia, an NGO that advocates for better historical literacy, the exploration of alternative Malaysian histories, and locating Malaysian history within a regional Southeast Asian context. She graduated with a BA in History from Oxford, for which she produced a dissertation on the ideology of the Zubayrids and their role in shaping early Islamic identity in the 7th Century.

Commentator: Ooi Kok Hin was Monbukagakusho scholar at Waseda University and is currently an associate researcher at a local think tank. His master’s thesis explores the roles of student activists and opposition parties in contesting student debt policies and neoliberal discourse in Malaysia.

Moderator: Azura Nasron is a graduate in political science currently pursuing a master’s in Southeast Asian studies. She is currently working with Suaram, focusing on the repeal of draconian laws.

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