Some thoughts on community action – From a former angry student activist

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Written by: Heather C. Lou (she/her/hers), Assistant Director of the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence, University of Minnesota

Hello community:

I want to tell you something. It’s a secret, but not really. When I was a student at San Jose State University, I was an angry student activist who really didn’t like administrators. Fast forward 10 years- I have become one of the administrators that I so desperately disliked. I am still a bit angry, very much an activist, and have become implicated in the postsecondary education system. Over the past week, I have been re-activated to reflect on my marginalized identities, and my ownership of positionality and privilege within a new context. I have been inspired by the power of student activism, and the ways that students (specifically navigating intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship, ability, and many other identities) have expressed their rights to address political language that hurts based on our narratives around racism and xenophobia.

As you all continue to express free speech, protest, and demonstrate, I hope that you take care of yourself and your critical community. And I hope you remind yourselves that systems of oppression and liberation are connected, as is our desire for social justice and maintaining our integrity. I also hope you remind yourselves that activism, finding voice, and navigating systems shows up differently for people. Sometimes you’re the loudest, taking direct action and writing impactful articles and social media posts, and sometimes you’re licking wounds, taking care of yourself, and finding ways to restore.

You all might experience me (and other administrators) at your events, and you might wonder… why? I want you all to be raw in your emotions. I want you all to express what’s coming up for you. I want you all to find a voice, community, and make the world an even better place that fosters a more positive and equitable campus climate for all, which is rooted in dialogue, challenging questions, and active listening. I also want you to be safe(r), aware of campus policies, and recognize what is coming up for you during demonstrations. So here is a list of tips/thoughts/considerations that I hope you experience so you can continue to engage in activism moving forward. It’s not exhaustive, or perfect, and by no means the FINAL good word that represents my professional view… So just remember that.

  • Reflect on your social identities, power, and privilege: Who are you? How are you impacted? How are you impacting others? How is this space accessible? Who can afford to be in these spaces? Who cannot? These questions (to me), are central to activism. Sometimes you just need to be there, and listen (especially if you have privilege). Sometimes you need to be held at the center of the movement, and people need to make space for you. How will you navigate calling out group dynamics and people’s dominance if needed? And based on these narratives, you might need to assess risk, as yourself about your limits, and ways you might want to engage in activism moving forward.
  • Take care of you: Drink water, eat, sleep. Listen to your body, heart, soul, mind. You cannot pour from an empty cup. And it’s okay if you need to sit out of things based on your life energy. Or simply, you need to go to work or do your class assignments. And that’s okay. You are enough. You are powerful. Take care of yourself, and then take care of your community.
  • Know your plans: Is everyone organizing on the same page about the purpose of your event? What is the flow of the event? What are your values (Feminist? Intersectional? Liberatory? Radical?) How will you check in with other organizers if you feel unsafe or people show up that negatively impact your cause? What if there is a counter-rally? How can you make your event smooth and impactful for all participating? How will you communicate with other organizers if/when your plan gets a little off? How will you interact with media?
  • Know your policies:  Do you have a sound permit? Do you have a space reservation if needed? Are you following time, place, manner policies around educational instruction and conducive learning environments? If you stop or disrupt an event, how can you continue finding ways to keep up momentum and keep asking really critical questions even after a direct action? How can you create counterspace(s) to share your perspectives/views/concerns? Are there accessible ways to get in and out of spaces? Are there faculty members and administrators you can loop in to have as observers and to advise you with policy? Are there laws you need to consider if you are blocking streets or holding spaces (like for a teach-in)?
  • Safety? So what, now what?: We all need to be able to express ourselves. We all need to be able to access spaces and be able to show up as much as ourselves as possible. Ask yourself- how will you make your event safe(r) for people with marginalized identities? Do you have a ADA accessible pathway to walk? Are you following fire code? If there are accommodations or content warnings needed, are you providing them appropriately? Are you using more equitable language (like pronouns at the bare minimum)? Is there a megaphone involved? Who will work with police if they are called (based on our identities)? Are there alternatives to calling the police? (http://z.umn.edu/194u) How will you communicate with participants with marginalized identities that the police have been called? Do you need legal services (usls.umn.edu)? What will you do if your rights are violated during a protest (http://z.umn.edu/194v)?  Or just a space to process moving forward (Counseling Services, Conflict Resolution, Women’s Center, Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life, MCAE, or Multicultural Student Engagement)?

Again, these are just a few thoughts. They’re not all-encompassing, or the best. But take what you need. Take care of yourself. Take care of the community and each other.

Thank you for all you do.

In solidarity,

hcl

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One thought on “Some thoughts on community action – From a former angry student activist

  1. Pingback: On College Republicans, “Build the Wall,” and Anti-Immigrant Bullying | Sabrina Rivas

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