The Balancing Act of the College Activist

A common trend amongst many of my fellow feminist activists on campus is that they are absolute professionals at being involved in EVERYTHING. Let’s face it: As feminist activists in an educational setting, we are surrounded by countless opportunities to learn about all that is wrong with the world, both in and outside of the classroom. When you mix genuine passion and desire to end cycles of oppression, a hunger for education and personal growth, and the bombardment of student organizations all around campus aimed at eliminating social issues, you get a formula for one busy activist spreading themselves thin in many different directions.

From my own personal experience, it always seems like a real swell idea to take a full credit load of upper-level courses, shoot my hand up in the air to volunteer to take on 20 different tasks and/ or give in to taking on the work no one else wants to do in the 5-6 different organizations I work with, hold down a part-time job, and try to fit in much needed me time. At times, we activists feel personally obligated to do everything and anything put in front of us because we hold high expectations of ourselves being that we know what wonderful things we are capable of doing. As we grow into feminist activists and gain knowledge about those who have shaped the movement in one way or another, we become inspired to personally make changes. We enroll in courses, read whatever we can get our paws on, listen to guest speakers on campus, and as a result, discover 100 new issues that grow near and dear to our hearts. We then find organizations to become involved with which snowballs into putting together fundraisers, taking on a variety of random volunteer opportunities, holding down jobs and internships, and doing our best to speak out against oppression whenever possible. Sounds stressful even thinking about it, but hey, most of us live it! Because we are so involved, it is easy to get sucked into that cycle and give too much of ourselves without taking the time to level out the playing field.

Believe me, if it wasn’t for my education and being involved in EVERYTHING I don’t think I would be the feminist activist or socially conscious person that I am today. But, as I learned from my professors in my women and gender studies courses and from many sleepless nights (Actually, I think those make me learn my lesson for a couple of days and then I am back to square one, as is true with most college students activist or not!), it is helpful to focus in on a just a couple of issues at a time. At first, I think it is helpful for beginning activists to skim the surface of issues and activism on campus and in the community, and then eventually find a couple main focuses to submerge themselves into.

I am not at all saying that we should stop learning outside the box of our special areas of interest, as it is extremely important to educate ourselves about what is going on in our crazy world! What I am getting at is that spreading ourselves too thin may stop us from being as effective as we could be. Who wants to half-ass their work, stay up until four o’clock in the morning writing a paper, then finish up pamphlets for an upcoming event, and on top of that, try to squeeze in a couple hours of sleep before an 8:00 AM class?  I would bet my bottom dollar that almost every activist has found themselves in this situation at one point in their college career or another.

When I find myself in the position of wanting to become overly-involved, I often try to figure out how exactly my new area of interest ties in with what I am already doing. For example, I have become quite interested in environmentally friendly things thanks to my dear eco-feminist friend, Nancy. Nancy has taught me everything I need to know about going green and continues to teach me more and more every day. While I was beyond tempted to join an environmental coalition on campus, I had to think of how much I was already doing and ways in which I could tie eco-feminist values into my current areas of involvement. And with some brainstorming, it clicked!  Nancy taught me all about the uses of vinegar! You can wash your hair with it (as long as it’s apple cider vinegar and guess what?! Her hair looks and smells fabulous!), clean with it, cook with it, etc, etc! This was perfect because a lot of the women I work with at the shelter do not have a large source of income meaning they have a tough time affording things like cleaning products and shampoo. Being that vinegar is non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and extremely cheap, I made an information packet about the many uses and benefits of vinegar and posted it on the bulletin board in the shelter’s kitchen. It’s just as rewarding to see the residents looking through the pamphlet and learning something new and healthy. This just goes to show that you don’t need to be hands on in an organization to make a difference. You can just as easily promote the values and spread awareness about the issues with just a bit of creativity!

A super-power resume listing everything you’ve done is rewarding and can be beneficial in the grand scheme of things, but then again, so is keeping your sanity, which is something I still work at maintaining everyday ;) . It’s very important to maintain dialogue with fellow activists, along with any faculty or staff at your university. The benefit is that when you get stuck or torn between which ways you want your activism to go, you have a support network that is more than willing to help you brainstorm ideas and give you a good old reality check! Also, make sure to check out any community service learning centers on your campus to get a more thorough explanation of different ways you can get involved.

I am interested to hear how others have learned to be balanced and healthy activists while keeping up with the academic pressures of college. Any tips or personal experiences you can share would be much appreciated. I know I could use them, and would bet that many of you out there could too!

PS- I cannot wait for school to start up so I can find out all the wonderful, feminist activities going on at Grand Valley State University. Stay tuned and have a great day!

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One Comment

  1. Posted August 19, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Great post, Nicole! I think your point is excellent… there were too many times in college when a room full of people refused to volunteer for a task because everyone was already over-committed. I think it’s a good reminder to truly invest in a couple of things and then make quality, meaningful contributions.

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