This is the Orientation issue, published at a time when the world is in metaphorical flames.
Many social media users have expressed that they are tired of living through major historical events. It’s true — the choices you make as a freshman in college will be significant, not only in your lifetime but, collectively, in the course of history.
I understand why that challenge may seem daunting and I imagine our parents and grandparents felt fatigue, too, as they witnessed and lived through tragedies.
When I entered college, I didn’t really involve myself in student activism, nor did I want to contribute to history.
I knew vaguely about my ancestors’ involvement in civil wars in Mexico and Lebanon, and I was grateful to my parents for what they gave up to get me here. I am where I am today as a result of sacrifices and struggles I will never understand.
But I didn’t confront this legacy every day. My white skin affords me the privilege of being able to hide these parts of myself, these histories — I can just exist.
Boston University freshmen, I’m not speaking from a place of condescension when I tell you that being as docile and complacent as I was is not an option. Students hold a collective power that we cannot afford to waste.
College activism has played a pivotal role in many social movements. Scholar Philip Autbach once wrote, “Virtually every nationalist and independence struggle had a strong component of student participation.”
In the U.S., student activism rose to prominence in the 1960s, with the Civil Rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War protests. This very newspaper was the product of student activism in response to the National Guard killing students at the Kent State University protests 50 years ago.
There are many opportunities on our campus to promote societal change, such as fighting to end the prison industrial complex with the BU Coalition for Decarceration or lobbying with the Students for Reproductive Freedom.
However, any activism worth fighting for requires grappling with systemic racism.
Black people have been, and continue to be, abused and murdered by systems of structural racism that this country operates on; all systems of oppression are racialized.
Take environmentalism for instance. DivestBU is a group that advocates for the University to stop investing in fossil fuel use. The Environmental Student Organization strives to increase awareness of environmental issues through events and projects. These groups can attest that serious engagement with environmentalism requires anti-racist work.
Pollution and global warming can seem like an issue with distant consequences, but for many BIPOC communities, those consequences are a reality. Minority populations are often housed in areas with the highest pollution rates due to years of residential housing segregation.
Many reports indicate that indigenous peoples have developed the best practices to reduce wide-spread forest fires. Banning indigenous peoples from interacting with nature preserves in the U.S. was shown to increase the intensity and probability of forest fires.
You cannot escape this moment; your activism must be anti-racist in nature.
What exactly does student activism look like? It can take many forms, but a starting point is education. Get informed about the issues you are interested in. If you want to learn more about systems of racism, for instance, read seminal texts by Black authors and activists.
The next step is getting involved. Sign petitions, join a club and even spread awareness about issues among your own friend group. It is crucial to focus on changing things in your community, rather than becoming overwhelmed when looking at an issue on a broader scale. How does BU, and our student body, maintain and invest in systems of oppression?
For instance, look at the issue of policing. Boston University has a contract with the Boston Policeman’s Patrol Association, who in 2016 tried to block attempts for police officers to wear body cameras. In a recent letter to the Boston Teachers Union, the BPPA demonized the Black Lives Matter movement and falsely claimed that BLM has “made policing more dangerous than ever before.”
Keep in mind that it’s more dangerous to be a taxi driver than a policeman and there is no statistical evidence to show that the BLM movement has made policing more dangerous. There is, however, evidence to show that police brutality is extremely present.
If you are not Black, activism on campus also involves amplifying the voices of your fellow Black students. For instance, demand that Boston University match the BU Student Government x UMOJA fundraiser amount and make sure BU follows the steps proposed in the Black Student Union town hall.
We as students have a responsibility to confront our university, and one another, about what’s currently happening in this country. It’ll be uncomfortable and it’ll be painful, but it’s necessary.
Everyone I know and love is fighting this battle as well, and we will be right there alongside you.