The Catalysts strive to have student voices heard

With a current focus on gun reform, The Catalysts aim to create change

Taylor Reisdorf

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March 25, 2020

Photo by Kar Wei Cheng

Two of the six current members: Morgan Dysert (left) and Camryn Billen (right).

A new non-partisan organization on campus is looking to create change both on the UW-Eau Claire campus and throughout the Eau Claire community.

While The Catalysts’ current focus is on gun reform, they aim to open discussion and show students that all voices deserve to — and can — be heard.

Camryn Billen, a first-year English education and theater education student and member of the group, said the group’s motto is “Education, Awareness and Reform.” She said these are the “three facets” the organization focuses on.

Morgan Dysert, a nontraditional biology student at Eau Claire, said the unofficial organization comprises six members as of right now. The group is run cooperatively, Dysert said, and the students came together after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February.

“It started off as ‘okay, we want to have a march of some kind,’” Dysert said. “Then we kind of sat down together and it turned out that we had really solid, like-mindedness of wanting to engage the community in conversation about any type of reform — not just gun reform.”

Billen attested to this when she saw and commented on a post of Dysert’s in the College Feminists Facebook group asking if there were individuals who would be interested in creating a march. The ball started rolling from there, Billen said.

“We put words to what we were feeling,” Billen said.

The group, Billen said, meets once a week to discuss a “game plan”  — for both the march and their overall goals for conversation — and talk about how things have been going.

Dysert said she has personal reasons that contributed to her desire to take action. This is her second time going through college. Her first time around, she said she wasn’t involved in the things she expected or wanted to be involved in.

Additionally, Dysert said her advocacy for gun reform stems from two other reasons: Her dad and boyfriend are both teachers, and, during Dysert’s lifetime, multiple school shootings have occured in the U.S.

“I’ve seen posts on Facebook like ‘these are just kids asking adults for help,’ and all of a sudden we’re those adults,” Dysert said. “It’s less about guns, more about engagement.”

Billen said she has her own reasons for joining and leading the group.

“My mom always likes to tell me that I have to not only say I stand for something, but to prove I stand for something,” she said. “This group is a good way to show where you stand, put your money where your mouth is. It’s showing what you stand for as well as proclaiming it.”

The Catalysts have a set date for a march for gun reform, Dysert said. At 10 a.m. on April 20, she said students and community members alike are encouraged to meet in the Campus Mall to participate.

Billen said the group has been trying to get the word out about the event and the organization through their Facebook page and Twitter account. She said the group tries to make sure people know the march, and the organization as a whole, are happening.  

“We’ve been talking about having guest speakers (at the march), talking about what it means not only to advocate for gun reform but what it means to be an activist in general and how you can make changes throughout the community,” Billen said.

Billen said the group has also been trying to gain traction on campus by reaching out to different organizations. Billen said that so far, among other organizations, they’ve spoken to the College Democrats, the College Republicans and the College Feminists. Overall, the response has been positive, she said.

In addition to reaching out to Eau Claire organizations, Billen said the group has approached Chippewa Valley Technical College students in hopes of collaborating with them.

Dysert said she feels this consistent effort to reach out and join forces with other campus organizations makes The Catalysts unique.

“We named ourselves The Catalysts because of our desire of engaging people and connecting different groups,” Dysert said.

Dysert said the group will continue to advertise around campus to get the word out. She said she hopes for the group to keep growing and continue being a part of the university, because it’s important for students to realize they can make an impact.

Dysert said she encourages anyone and everyone to join the conversation.

“I think it’s awesome just to open up the dialogue,” she said. “I mean, we’re focusing on the gun reform thing right now because it’s important. But I think that it’s a really good opportunity — because we aren’t an official organization — to invite everybody to the table. Like you can say whatever you want, and we’ll try to understand you as best as we can.”

Billen said she agrees with Dysert, and wants the dialogue to be as open as possible.

“You just have to have the fire to make a change,” Billen said. “You have to open yourself up to the dialogue that you’re creating, too.”