Although you will have heard this endlessly, let me repeat it one more time – university is totally unique in that for three or more years you will be exposed to more opportunities than you ever have been before or probably will ever be again. I wish more than anything that I had thrown myself into university more in my first year; as a third year I now look back on the wasted time with frustration. I only joined York PEN a year ago and, somehow, I’m now the Co-Chair of one of the best and friendliest societies (in my utterly non-biased opinion) at the University of York.
York PEN was immediately different to other societies I had been to. Everyone was warm, interested in my opinions on every topic from legal quandaries to events planning (I usually push for free wine), and hugely passionate. Straight away I was writing for the blog, petitioning, sending letters to imprisoned writers and meeting authors. There are also brilliant socials, in which we have consumed inhuman amounts of Camembert.
Being part of the wider charity English PEN is also such a privilege; it a charity that truly wants to create a network of equal writers and readers across the globe – rather than faintly patronising attempts to help ‘other places’ while standing on a pedestal of Western privilege. Campaigns in the past have focused just as heavily on the United Kingdom and the USA as on countries that the media tells us to associate human rights abuses with. If you care about people’s right to speak freely both here and across the world, I hope you will choose to participate in a society that fights for that right.
Madeleine Stone is a third year undergraduate studying English Literature. She joined York PEN in 2014 and is the current Co-Chair alongside Stefan Kielbasiewicz, succeeding Joey Wilson-Brooke and Connor Briggs.
This week was the first week of my new life as a postgraduate student of Comparative Literature at University College London. I am not entirely sure what this subject I am supposed to be studying actually is, and neither have I ever before lived in city that feels so big it might just swallow me up. To be honest, I have no idea what I am doing.
The only time all week I did not feel completely lost was when I realised that there was a Student PEN society at UCL as well, and the Chairperson kindly sat down with me to discuss the charity and our previous experiences over coffee.
Joining York Student PEN was the best decision of my undergraduate career. It allowed me to take part in and organise fun and impactful events, to learn more about free speech and human rights, and even to travel to Iceland for the PEN International Congress in Reykjavik 2013! But most of all, it allowed me to meet kind and brave people who, like myself, felt strongly about the ethical issues of literature and expression more generally. Some of these I know will be friends for life. And even though I am no longer at York, I can still partake in this great project that is PEN.
Make your time at university mean something.
Alice Olsson was Chair of York PEN in the academic year of 2013/14. She succeeded Sebastian Brixey-Williams, the first to hold the position, and both have taken their interest for human rights to further study at the University of London.
York PEN was one of the best parts of my life at university. I got involved with the society in my second year and really was immediately struck with the energy that everyone dedicated to the important work they were doing. This inspired me to get involved and I became the Treasurer of the society in my third year, during which we managed to grow the society and form better connections, both to other societies with similar aims and to English PEN. We need new enthusiastic people to keep York PEN growing and to fight for freedom of expression around the world.
One of York PEN’s strengths is its community. Because of our relatively small size, everyone knows everyone within the society, and there are so many chances to get actively involved and work for a good cause as part of a team. When I first joined the society, within half a term I was acting as compare for an evening of short talks about human rights violations in Turkey. If you are interested in fighting for freedom of expression, York PEN is a welcoming society within which you can make an active difference. Get involved.
Max Adams was treasurer of York Student PEN in academic year 2014/15, succeeding William McCurdy. He is currently studying for a masters in Modern and Contemporary Literature and Culture at York and still looking to be an active member of York PEN.