UW Graduate School

January 11, 2016

Be the Change You Want to See in the World

In many ways, academia can socialize us to remain cerebral about issues of race, difference and equity, rather than providing us with concrete tools to shift into action for social change. Sometimes we think societal oppressions like racism, transphobia, and ableism are not about us, so we turn our attentions elsewhere. Other times, they are so personal, we don’t know where to start, in order to be change agents for equity.

In recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. week of service at the University of Washington, we want to acknowledge and honor Dr. King’s work and legacy–and also recognize graduate students and student organizations who are actively working to make an impact across communities today. If you are not involved yet, here are a few ways to move forward this week–and beyond. These are really choices about what kind of person, citizen, scholar and/or professional you want to be–you can shape the future to be one that is engaged and impactful:

Self-reflect on your identities. We live in a society structured by power relations based on race, gender, class, sexuality, ability and citizenship. These hierarchies are interrelated and negatively impact marginalized communities disproportionately. In what ways are we privileged in society (whether educational, economic, social, racial, gendered, or otherwise)? How can we utilize those privileges for equity, as it’s not enough to just be aware—change has to happen. Do these identity reflections with other folks who share similar life experiences to your own, as this work can not be done in isolation.

Listen. Before you start working for social justice, it’s important to know the communities that are around you. What inequalities exist on your campus, your neighborhood, your city? Do your research (luckily, you have access to the biggest research library in the region and a cadre of students, staff, and faculty on campus who care about these issues). Also, folks who are impacted by different forms of oppression know their own experiences. Be humble, reach out without a set agenda, listen to the community (listen to multiple voices within the community) you are reaching out to, center their leadership–as they know how best to organize a march or campaign and inform institutional policies and research.

Share your skills and resources. This is one way to push back against privilege and build solidarity with communities of color, queer and trans folks, people with disabilities, and undocumented families. Ask, don’t assume what communities need. From then on, you can think about and respond to questions like: Is there anyone in your network who can offer a zero to low-cost, accessible venue for meetings? Do you speak more than one language, and if so, can you help with translation on documents or at events? Are you open to fundraising among friends and family for organizations led by underrepresented communities? Are you open to sharing your writing, research, and tech skills? How can you fill a supportive role that amplifies the voices of marginalized communities?

Remain open. Working for social change is an iterative process. Sometimes we worry about not saying the correct words or offending people. Learn, listen, be accountable, and have a plan of action to change. Be willing to be challenged and g(r)o(w) from there.

Check out the new Center for Communication, Equity, and Difference at UW Seattle for related research, conversations, events, and community.