The University is known for its history of activism, but in a workshop Friday night called “Looking Back to Press Forward,” about 30 attendants looked at that history in the context of how they could continue it moving forward.
The workshop, moderated by Mariama Nagbe, the director of the Leaders and Best Program within the Office of Academic and Multicultural Affairs, focused on campus activism at the University from past years, as well as what students can do today to get involved in issues they find pertinent. Leaders and Best is a mentorship program that pairs first and second-year students with academically successful juniors and seniors.
Nagbe told the group that activism is not a far fetched idea for her, and it shouldn’t be for students either. One of the aims of the workshop, she said, was to spark the first steps toward starting a coalition of young activists.
“This is my voice now, but I was silent going through oppressive experiences as a student, so I’m really trying to pass the torch,” she said. “Activism comes in many forms and it doesn’t take a grandiose plan, but it just starts with action.”
Nagbe said though the University makes it a priority to talk about issues of concern on campus, the administration has not been proactive in creating solutions. The University is structured like a business and information about activism is not communicated to students, she added, saying she hoped the event would help inform students about the options available to them.
“It was important to let students know that this is the layout of the land that you inhabit and how the University was committed to your success, or supposedly so,” she said. “It was about exposing them to information or ways of thought that they might not have been familiar with before and also looking at what has happened in terms of activism and why that’s important.”
The workshop featured examples of the Black Action Movement on campus from 1970 to 1989. Nagbe credited this activism for creating the position of vice provost of minority affairs at the University, as well as for creating Martin Luther King Jr. Day on campus.
“Connecting with the past, you learn so much from history and you can’t really go forward, unless you were to revisit what’s happening in the past,” Nagbe said. “The past isn’t just the 19th century, the 18th century; the past is last year, yesterday.”
LSA freshman Chelsie Thompson said she was inspired by the event’s content, which included videos of student activists. She added she realized social change is an ongoing process.
“I get scared a little bit, because I am a student and I don’t want to mess up scholarships, I don’t want to mess up what my family thinks of me, I don’t want to get too drastic,” she said. “At the same time, I don’t want to live in a world or go anywhere if I’m not respected. So, this event showed me that no matter what my title is, I could still make a difference.”
Thompson added she hopes the University will advocate more for first-generation college students.
“It’s awkward when you call your parents and you try to tell them what I’m trying to do for classes, but they can’t really give me advice about it because they haven’t been put into this situation,” she said. “They’ve always been there for me and they’ve always protected me, but unfortunately there’s certain limits, and I think that the University could expand the opportunities they do have for first generation students.”
LSA senior Annetta Joyce, a mentor in the Leaders and Best program, said she thought the event was informative and events such as this hosted by organizations such as OAMI have helped her understand more about activism than she did before.
“It always challenges my thinking and what I can do moving forward,” she said. “It always keeps me on my toes of what I can do and to never really get comfortable in the work that I’m doing.”
In a similar vein, Nagbe said she hoped students felt like activism on campus is more accessible after attending the workshop.
“Activism is pushing beyond surface level conversations and being able to extend a lending hand, to just listen, to challenge disparaging comments in the classroom, to escalate up the ladder of escalation earlier knowing that you don’t have to sit in silence and accept the powers that be,” she said. “You are powerful, you are brilliant and you deserve to speak up for yourself.”