Fighting the Good Fight

Many students feel called to engage in ongoing struggles for social justice on our campuses, in their communities, and beyond. Recent events have led even more students to recognize that such activism may be part of their vocation. But even the most motivated and energetic student advocates experience frustration and exhaustion to an extent that threatens their well-being and sometimes even the continuation of their studies. How can we best support these students? How can those of us who are committed to helping our students discern and live out their vocations tend to their sometimes acute sense of being embattled? On Tuesday, July 14, NetVUE hosted a webinar with four speakers who addressed this intersection of social justice, activism, and vocation.

Chris Arguedas (pictured on the left) is Director of the Intercultural Community Center at Occidental College. In his comments, Chris highlighted the importance of belonging as a psychological need, the role that fear often plays for minoritized students, and how that fear can inhibit relationships. He encouraged listeners to consider how these might be manifested for students on their campuses, and underscored the importance of using campus resources to support the well-being of student activists.

Chris concluded his prepared remarks with the following advice for how to care for student activists:

To learn more about Chris and his work with students at Occidental, see “Student Activism and Belonging.”

LaShonda Gurley, the Director of the Center for Career and Vocation at Bluffton University (pictured second from the left above) began by sharing some of her own story, growing up as the daughter of civil rights activists. “Activism is an integral part of our culture,” LaShonda argued, drawing our attention to the 1917 flu pandemic and the fact that the Women’s Suffrage movement was taking place at the same time. She then encouraged us to think about a wide variety of activities that can be considered forms of activism, not just protesting in the streets. “Trust that the needle is being moved forward,” LaShonda counseled, even when you or your students are tired.

Kevin Lavender, Jr., is Associate Dean of Career and Life Calling at Cornerstone University; he is pictured third from the left above. Kevin began with a quote from Ella Baker: “In order to see where we are going, we not only must remember where we have been. but we must understand where we have been.” Ella Baker can be seen as the “matriarch of student activism,” Kevin suggested, highlighting the important role that mentors can play in encouraging a new generation of activists. Picking up on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s idea of “disciplined nonconformists,” Kevin proclaimed that “the vibrancy of our society lies with people who say ‘it’s not good enough, it’s not enough, we have to change this.'”

Jason Mahn is a Professor of Religion and Director of the Presidential Center for Faith and Learning at Augustana College (far right above). Jason began with the following observation: Many of our institutions have faith commitments that embrace both social justice and vocational discernment but these do not always align smoothly “Vocation and advocacy should go together,” Jason urged. Consider the shared etymology of the two words; advocacy (ad + vocare), “giving voice to another,” includes calling, or a summons, within it. We must consider how our student activists are often responding not to the call of “the world” but to fighting injustices within that world. Jason challenged us to consider, “How might we better stand with and support students who feel called not to contribute to the workings of the world, but to point out its systemic injustices?”

For more of Jason’s insights on these and related topics, see his blog posts here at Vocation Matters.

The last 30 minutes of the webinar were dedicated to questions from the participants. This included questions about the conflation of activism and service; about student fatigue and the burden that is often and especially put on students of color when it comes to campus activism; about the language of social justice and the common good; what to do about forms of activism that perpetuate harmful or racist ideas and behaviors; about students’ mental health and how trauma may inform activism; and about how to better connect members of different generations when it comes to activism.

The webinar was recorded and can be accessed here.

NOTE: When you go to this link, it will prompt you to share your name and email address, but this is not a login; it simply allows NetVUE to keep track of interest. You are unlikely to receive any follow-up emails unless you are at a NetVUE member institution. However, if you do, you’ll have the opportunity to unsubscribe. 

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