During my freshman year of college, I saw passion and possibility on this campus. I saw individuals and groups dedicating themselves to social justice issues with an intensity I had never seen in high school. Here were people determined to try and take on some of the most pressing issues facing our society: poverty, malnutrition, human rights abuses, massive environmental degradation, institutionalized and personal bigotry, war and genocide. This excited me more than anything else, and I was more than ready to get involved in this campus community.
I jumped in headfirst during my first semester at the University. For the first month or so, I spent more time learning about different issues and organizations than I did in class. I started to notice things that began to turn me off from the organizations in which I was involved, but at the time, I couldn’t put my observations into words. As a result, my extracurricular involvement began to shrink to more manageable hours. In retrospect, this was probably a good thing. I was in way over my head as a freshman.
In college, away from my family for the first time in my life, I began to feel isolated and lonely. I don’t know if all freshmen go through this, but by the beginning of the second semester, I felt increasingly alone on a campus with tens of thousands of my peers. I had somehow convinced myself to take classes that I had very little interest in and convinced myself to get involved in organizations that dealt with issues I had little passion for. At one point, though I never went to see a psychiatrist, I was more than likely clinically depressed.
After a summer and a semester of mental recovery, I was finally able to verbalize some of the things that I had noticed during my freshman year that had turned me away from campus activism. As a result of my own isolation, I was able to see and describe the isolation on this campus.
In the midst of excitement and action, I saw groups of people trying to change the minds, attitudes and actions of the campus community, but I also saw them working almost exclusively within their own, isolated niches. Groups with seemingly similar goals were working toward these goals separately – they were competing for the same resources and sometimes even working against each other. There were some organizations that broke away from this trend, but they were few and far between.
I felt that if only this one thing could change — if we could confront the isolation on this campus — it would take us that much farther in creating and sustaining a more effective form of campus activism. It was less than a year ago that I told this to somebody and the word spread, and the idea of an alliance of social justice organizations was first envisioned.
This alliance, consisting of a fluid membership of over two dozen organizations, came to be known as the Progressive Alliance. In about a year since it was first envisioned, it came together this past weekend, to put on the first-ever Michigan Social Justice Conference. Social justice organizations and activists from different corners of the University came to share their issues and experiences with the broader community. The point was to bridge the gap in understanding between individuals from different backgrounds and, in particular, to highlight the interconnectedness of many social justice issues. The hope was that this would help conference participants to uncover the structural issues at the root of many societal problems and would help in building a more unified campus activism. In this regard, it was a success.
But this conference was only a first step. There is still much work to be done and we invite all people, with their unique passions and creativity, to join us. If you are at all interested in joining us, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and visit http://www.umsjc.blogspot.com for more information about the conference.
– Bhavik Lathia is a founding member of the Progressive Alliance.