CACTUS Academy exposes students to social justice


Center for Public Service

2016 CACTUS Academy students at their retreat this fall

Students are making the most of their community service experiences through a Community Action Council for Tulane University Students program, which piloted this past fall and continues to make an impact. 

CACTUS Academy is a social justice leadership program through Tulane’s Community Action Council. It covers a wide variety of intersectional social justice issues and students are expected to attend a varying set of talks and events on those subjects.

According to CACTUS Academy’s website, the objectives of the program are for students to develop a critical consciousness of systematic societal issues and understand how those impact New Orleans. It encourages students to create a community network of local organizations and individual leaders of social movements, to increase student awareness and use of Tulane resources and to foster the development of professional and leadership skills.

Students attend events throughout the week that exposes them to local social justice advocates. Examples include workshops on classism, talks on cultural appropriation and a protest against family court injustices. The program provides students with a calendar and they then meet to discuss the significance of the events in regards to social justice and community service. 

Program Manager for the Academy Nicole Ralston emphasized how locally focused the program is meant to be.

“There was a need for students who are interested in getting engaged with community service to learn more about the New Orleans community in order to become more intentional with and accountable to the New Orleans community,” Ralston said. “CACTUS Academy was developed as an effort to address this need.”

Fall 2016 was the first semester of CACTUS Academy, and student participants were pleased with their experiences.

Freshman Griffin Daly, a student leader apprentice with the program, said he feels that it helps Tulane students make their service in New Orleans as effective as possible.

“The program’s emphasis on just, equitable and sustainable service equips us to have deeply positive impacts on the various communities we go on to serve,” Daly said.

He said he also feels that social justice education programs are especially poignant in the context of the modern political narrative.

“Programs like CACTUS Academy — programs that take the rage and passion of compassionate and motivated students and channel them into profoundly transformative advocacy and activism — are crucial now more than ever,” Daly said. 

Since this past fall semester was the first time the program has been held, the administrators and student leaders have plans to improve and expand upon it.

“We are working on planning social events for the spring cohort, to help build a close community of students with similar passions,” Daly said.

The program is running again currently, but applications for the fall of 2017 will be available in September.
More information can be found at

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