As myself and a few fellow student activists are in the middle of organizing around major policy issues at our university, I am trying to remind myself of ways to not burn out. Being a student activist is hard work because not only do we still have to be in class, we have to be everywhere on campus working to get the attention of our faculty and administration and our peers.
Below is a few things that I’ve learned over the years and often have to remind myself of:
– Question if what you’re doing benefits your interests more and/or it helps a larger body of people. If it serves your own personal interest, that isn’t a bad thing because one story can open up many doors to others; however, there has to be room for other students with similar agendas to speak up.
– Inclusivity! Not everyone experiences oppression the same way as you do, but that does not mean that their narrative shouldn’t be heard. Even if you can’t personally identify with it, help create space for them to be heard. Solidarity can’t just be a buzzword, it has to an ongoing act. Inclusion and intersectionality have to be where you start, not where you hope to end up.
– Don’t isolate yourselves from the student body. we have all been socialized in different ways of understanding systems of oppression. You’re in position of unlearning (and it is a constant state of being) and so are they. This does not mean that people’s oppressive actions are justified or that accountability isn’t necessary, it means being cautious in how you approach your fellow students, especially those that are struggling to survive what you’re against. This task can be difficult, and it is so important to try to take care of yourselves because you cannot always focusing on educating. It is not your job to always educate, but you are in a position where you can reach out to students by giving them a platform to start with.
– Students do care! Or at least, more than you might think. Because most of your student body probably has a short attention span or just don’t have the same access as you do, you may have to think creatively to get them in the space. For myself and my fellow student activists, being on a commuter campus means utilizing social media and effectively reaching out fellow students by inviting them to tweet or join a google hangout session. Then, hopefully, this means they will physically be present when they are needed. If there is a public demonstration, we can count on them to be there. (Note: not everyone has access to social media as resource or may working on sensitive topics that cannot be documented online.)
– Once more students are in the space, you have to keep them thinking critically. For me, being a student activist means organizing around what myself and others understand and figuring out ways to branch beyond that in order to progress and create change. Everyone thinking critically helps the group dynamic change for the better.
– Banding together isn’t just about spreading awareness but about healing yourselves and each other. Take care of yourselves, your executive board, and your group members — anyone who shares the space with you. If you need a break, take one; you are not obligated to sacrifice your physical or mental health for the sake of organizing.
– Organizing is exhausting and you will probably question if it’s worth it. Most of the time, it is. It is more than worth it. Even if you do not experience a shift toward progress right away, you have planted something that will grow as more and more students are aware and involved.
Here’s to trying to not burn out.