Knowing that the week before my blog post was due would be extremely hectic, I tried to write down some thoughts a few weeks early to make sure I had a post done on time. I wrote about losing in the student body election, calling out Student Government for spending $11,000 on a retreat, struggling with balancing classes with other involvement, and adopting a kitten. Looking back, I saw my words were filled with a lot of raw emotions: anger, excitement, sadness, anxiousness, among others. Here’s some of the memorable lines:
“I’ve got a lot of feedback from student leaders on this campus, and someone told me that, in light of losing the student government election last spring, it makes me look jaded. Luckily, green is my color.”
“One person called this issue ‘hullabaloo’. Not only is this arrogant and dismissive, it highlights the narrow-mindedness of a distinct group of student leaders on our campus.”
“You can’t choose when you’re inclusive. Plain and simple.”
“Don’t call me a hater for pointing out your responsibilities, transgressions, and mismanagement.”
Those are all sentiments I still strongly believe, but I think I’ve grown emotionally since I wrote those thoughts down. At that time, I was sick of being appeased and being treated like my viewpoint wasn’t valid. I was tired of feeling like an outsider, and I wrote from a place of hurt. Moreover, I was just feeling tired in general. I wasn’t getting enough sleep, I was snapping at people I loved, and I was focusing more on my feelings than the issues itself. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to create any type of change if I wasn’t grounding myself in what I believed in and thinking about my “why”. It was a chance for me to reflect on why I react the way I do, and how I could channel this energy into creating change.
The first time I was told that my friends and I [who were critiquing student government] were being petty, I snapped. I was angry. How dare anyone think that we are being petty when we are speaking the truth??
The second time, I stopped and listened. I didn’t take that “petty” label and stick it on me, but I listened to why it was being seen as such. Even if I didn’t agree with the reasoning, it was an opportunity to see someone else’s perspective and hear why they reacted the way that they did.
I see my friends and inspirations fighting for systemic changes in the work that they do, but the reasoning of people against those changes are much clearer to me. We stand for what we stand for because it’s what we believe is right. They stand for what they stand for because that’s what they think is right. But it’s not all completely us vs. them, is it? After all, we have to share some values and beliefs about something that give us the opportunity to relate or unite. But is that enough to change someone’s mind to see things your way?
Here’s an example: in our current model, the students who have the most access to leadership opportunities are a reflection of who in society has privilege and opportunity to gain power. I believe that in order to move towards a more just and equitable world, people of marginalized identities must hold these positions of power themselves, not just people who are aware of their experiences and struggles. When I proudly considered myself a “student leader”, I believed that I was contributing to creating changes, and I would take any criticism of the organizations I was involved in extremely personally, as if I was an extension of the organization itself. Now, not being involved, it’s easy for me to be critical of those same organizations that I once loved, but those who are still involved still have their rose-colored lenses on.
Reflecting on how I used to think compared to how I think now made me realize that we are all at different stages of our personal growth and social awareness and sometimes it is important to approach these conversations with respect and kindness. At the same time, these emotions can be rooted in oppression, and it would be tone-policing to tell someone to change the way they share their thoughts just to make yourself more comfortable. It’s a matter of meeting in the middle and acknowledging that nobody is 100% right all the time.
Sometime during the summer, this video of a former CIA agent was being shared all over social media. I love this one because the message is simple: everyone thinks what they’re doing is what is right. Whether that’s for them, or towards others, or what they’re doing with their power to affect change, everyone is doing what they believe will be the best for whoever is involved.
Last week, WILL had the opportunity to listen to Gloria Steinem speak. Listening to her was surreal and powerful, and she shared a message of empathy and validating one another’s truths. Most importantly, she stressed that when we don’t know, we must listen. Her words were a reminder of what I wanted my feminism to be: intersectional, validating, and kind. And that means it has to be self-validating too. It means allowing myself to believe that I am right, even and especially when people in power are against it. It means uniting people who share my values and reminding them that the work that they are doing is necessary and good. But it also means listening to those who I disagree with and acknowledging these differences as just one part of their whole self.
WILL has become a space to practice what I believe. It has granted me the space to be raggedy, vent my heart out, and figure out how to make my feminism more inclusive. It has taught me to challenge the status quo. It’s also empowered me to stand for what I believe to be right, and reflect on if I am being congruent in my thoughts and actions. Moreover, my peers challenge me and force me to question the problematic behaviors and assumptions that are socialized within all of us.
What I’ve realized is that there’s no best way to get people to understand what you stand for. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to figure out what works best for you, and so long as you aren’t disrupting my safety and well-being, I have no room to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. Find what works best for you in challenging injustice, find ways to practice self-care, and find people who support you and challenge you. More than anything, always fight for what you believe in and for what will make the world a more just and equitable place.
Akshayaa Venkatakrishnan is a 4th year Neuroscience student and a 2nd year WILLer