Leaders in the community gathered to discuss the three freedoms for action and how to live those out on Wheaton’s campus on Tuesday of last week. This themed community conversation was an extension of the teach-in last year on this topic. During the teach-in last year, the guest speakers presented on the freedom to think, to be, and the freedom of speech.
The five panelists led the community discussion by offering their own advice on how to bring activism and advocacy to Wheaton’s campus. The event was sponsored by the Student Government Association (SGA), the Scholars At Risk (SAR) Committee, the Center for Social Justice & Community Impact (SJCI) and the Office of the Provost.
Khadeeja Muheto ’18, coordinator for entrepreneurship programs on campus, moderated the discussion. She began the discussion by asking each of the panelists, “Do you perceive yourself as an activist, and if so, when was a time when you perceive yourself as one.”
Charlotte Meehan spoke about her work as an artist-activist and enacting social values in the classroom to portray empathy in art and theater. Meehan had worked on a project in response to the Kavanaugh hearing, for which she interviewed many women survivors of gender-based violence. The results of the project were shocking to Meehan, as it affected such a wide array of diverse women. She is glad that she had the chance to put forth those women’s voices.
Meehan shared her own advice on showing advocacy in a classroom setting. She emphasized the importance of identifying what is bothering each student in their own lives before trying to make a change. Meehan concluded that it is important to find what you are truly passionate about and what you think should be changed in the world.
Meehan also included advice on how to be an activist. She stated that working with others, who may have more knowledge and power than you, is extremely helpful and more efficient than trying to achieve something on your own. She emphasized that the process of taking the first step is different for everyone and bravery is important to have in order to make an impact.
Mike Pratt, LGBTQ+ engagement coordinator with SJCI, spoke about his work as an activist who is far from perfect. He mentioned that he is constantly trying to improve himself. As an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community on campus, Pratt has discovered that the perception of activism is different for everyone. When being an advocate, it is important to keep an open mind. Pratt explained that when he has had to combat bullying in the past, his experience changed his own perception of activism.
Self-preservation and collaboration are the keys to efficient advocacy. Pratt said that it is important to“be willing to be self-critical when it is productive.” and take everyone into consideration in the topic. Everyone’s voice and perspectives are relevant.
Amber Wright ’20 spoke about herself as an activist on small levels and her work with the Feminist Association of Wheaton (FAW). She played a leading role in creating WheaGo, an initiative created to help students get transportation to mental health services.
Wright learned about how institutions work and how important it is for students on campus to support others. She added that there are restraints to activities and that “if the activism that you are engaging in is not intersectional, it is not effective.” Wright focused on being an activist by knowing where your power lies, in order to take advantage of it.
When Muheto asked the panel to expand on the leadership skills needed for activism, Wright responded with, “when engaging in activism you need to be open to being uncomfortable. Being receptive to criticism and using it to better your work is crucial. Not only is the work you’re performing most likely uncomfortable, in some sense, but you need to be uncomfortable as an individual to grow.” She explained that sometimes it can be helpful to take a step back and learn from your mistakes by accepting and correcting them.
The panel discussed how privilege and freedom interact in advocacy. To go into further depth about this topic, Amber said, “Activism itself can be classist and inaccessible and it’s really important to make the forms of activism you’re utilizing accessible to others. And, elevate the work that already exists without overtaking.”
Sierra Prasad ’21 spoke about her passion behind her personal activism. Her advice is to always start by looking for a passion or interest and find ways that you can lead others in starting change. Prasad included a description of her mindset when she was working to create better transparency about how the finance system worked at Wheaton.
Prasad maintained perseverance when creating a bridge between the SGA and Wheaton students. Prasad said, “Don’t let other people’s criticism define the work of your cause” as she has had challenges in her policymaking, Prasad has learned the importance of accepting your vulnerability and being aware of what is needed in the community around you.
Prasad also talked about the challenge, along with the stereotype threats and social challenges, when it comes to being an activist and emphasized the idea that being aware of how you take into account a person’s identity can make the most impactful action occur.
Muheto closed the panel by adding that it is better to fail in college than when you are out on your own in the world. This is the time to be true to yourself with whatever you do by going through all the hoops, learning as you go.
Questions were then opened up to the audience and the speakers welcomed students from the community to voice their own ideas on how students can practice advocacy on campus. The students came up with a list of helpful tools students can use on campus:
- Utilize social media for outreach
- Social media platforms can reach out to more people and create a way to get feedback about current projects and goals
- Use your voice – speak up at SGA community meetings
- Being present on campus
- Become more educated about current issues allowing you to speak up
- Take leadership roles in clubs and organizations
- Promote collaboration between clubs
- Engaging with groups different than your own
- Be able to change and evolve
- Activism and advocacy looks different at certain times and in different situations
- Let your passion lead your action
- Don’t hesitate to color outside the lines
- Support each other in what you do