“Your Community is Your Biggest Resource”
Virginia Student Activists Discuss the Importance of Community and Self-Care
By Mireya Campuzano, M.A. Interdisciplinary Studies (Social Justice & Human Rights)
On September 30th 2022, three Virginia colleges collaboratively hosted “Renewal and Resilience: A Community of Student Activists.” This virtual, cross-campus workshop was organized by George Mason University (GMU), James Madison University (JMU), and the College of William and Mary (W&M) and sponsored by School of Integrative Studies (SIS), GMU. The event was one outcome of a cross-institutional research study funded by 4-VA via which 60 student activists and advocates across Virginia were interviewed about their activism and well-being.
Student speaker Alice Fox is in the Science, Technology, and Society Ph.D. program at Virginia Tech. In her words, Fox does not identify as an activist, but rather “someone who helps where she can.” Student speaker Kendall Cage enrolled in GMU’s Higher Education and Student Development master’s program shared that his activism focuses on empowering Black men and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Lastly, Natalie Luffman, a Ph.D. student in Human Genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University, spoke to her activism passion with respect to intersectional feminism and reproductive justice.
In a conversation about the “Journey of Activists,” the speakers shared their experiences with activism. All three became involved in activism without any training, and they encouraged the audience to do the same. Fox offered that “you don’t need training to care” and Cage explained that “community is your biggest resource.” The speakers shared how connecting with experienced activists and reaching out to other communities can be extremely helpful. One of the biggest challenges mentioned by the student activists was the lack of empathy from some in powerful positions. These challenges are out of activists’ control, but Cage reminded the audience that “the one thing you have control of every single day is your attitude.”
Following the student activist panel, Dr. Taimi Castle, a professor in the Department of Justice Studies at JMU and director of the JMU Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence, focused on “Regenerating the Self” and encouraged participants to assess their well-being with the help of a self-care workbook. Castle expressed the importance of practicing mindfulness as preventative self-care, which will protect individuals from reaching burnout. Audience members were also encouraged to create their own maintenance plans to help in times of stress.
Following the “Regenerating Self” session, Dr. Lisa Porter, an associate professor of Sociology at JMU, led a conversation focused on “Thinking about Community Within and Beyond.” Porter shared an interview with Crimson Solano, a community leader of Comité Salvadoreño Paisanos Unidos (COSPU) and pro-immigrant policy advocate. Solano noted his experience as an immigrant and how it influenced his activist work. He wanted to give back to the community and help others experiencing similar challenges. Acknowledging what is needed in your community can be the first step in starting your activism.
“Renewal and Resilience: A Community of Student Activists” wrapped up with closing comments by Dr. Steve Grande, director of Community Services at JMU and Melody Porter, director of the Office of Community Engagement at W&M. They highlighted the importance of “connection” and “tenderness” not only toward others, but also toward ourselves. The event inspired hope, commitment, community, and empowerment.
For questions, please contact:
Cher Weixia Chen, Associate Professor, Ph.D., School of Integrative Studies, George Mason University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Graziella Pagliarulo McCarron, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, School of Integrative Studies, George Mason University, email@example.com
Steve Grande, Ph.D., Director, Community Service-Learning, James Madison University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Melody Porter, Director, Office of Community Engagement, College of William & Mary, email@example.com
October 27, 2022