10 Tips for the Student balancing School and Advocacy

Posted August 19, 2015 by Camille Borders

Mimi Borders stands in front of a banner that reads Black Lives Matters

As the end of August quickly approaches and back to school commercials grow in quantity we will all begin to hesitantly accept that a new school year is quickly approaching.  College is hard, especially for those of us that spend the majority of our time outside of the classroom fighting for social justice through on campus student organizations, national non-profits, larger movements or self-created programs.

Last year, I was a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis and became heavily involved with organizing actions on campus concerning #blacklivesmatter and placing pressure on the administration to create a better environment for students of color.  Many times I felt overwhelmed due to the time and emotional energy I was investing.  Below are a couple of things I learned through balancing advocacy and the responsibilities of a student:

  1. Take time for yourself. Every week map out an hour of “you time”. No meetings or homework just a time for self-reflection, quite, Netflix or all three.  Providing this space for you to recharge helps to avoid burnout and keeps you at your best, and when we are more capable of helping others and building community.
  2. Whenever possible combine your advocacy with your coursework. Take classes that interest you and reinforce your activism whenever possible. Utilize your experience organizing as a starting block to think about a concept in class in a different way.  For me in a class called, “The Theory and Practice of Justice” my advocacy for black lives brought a whole new light to lectures concerning the history of the vulnerability of black bodies and the injustice of institutions meant to protect them.
  3. Be vocal with your peers concerning commitments and availability. Within student organizations and movements it is important to remember that others are relying on you, and your lateness or lack of follow through does have ramifications.  Tell them about your commitments at the beginning of the year so as a group you can plan ahead of any conflicts.
  4. Remember why you do what you do. Organizing is stressful and tiresome but hold strong in your truth and take time to reflect on the purpose of your actions and the long-term goal.  When times get tough remember your foundation.
  5. Be honest with professors and advisors concerning your involvement. This is especially helpful if the time comes when you need an extension on a paper.  If a teacher is aware of your involvement and activity they are more prone to understand.  Also, if you build relationships with professors that believe in your work in the future their support can help to expand your project.
  6. Be well. Make sure that you are getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night. This is vital to being a full functioning person.  Eat food that makes you feel good and gives you the energy to tackle busy days.
  7. The Planner is your new best friend. Organize early to get ahead of curveballs and the dreaded all nighter. When you get class syllabuses at the beginning of the semester sit down and place dates in your planner so that you can plan events and meetings knowing your academic commitments helps with time management skills
  8. Prioritize and strategize.  Take a blank piece of paper and draw a line through it.  On the left, write the things you care about, what you love, your values and what makes you happy.  On the right list the organizations, student groups and other activities you are involved in.  Cross lists the information and think critically about commitments that don’t satisfy a passion or value.  Prioritize extracurricular activities that fulfill you as a person.  Cut out things that don’t.
  9. Say NO. You are a human and though you are spectacular in everyway, there is a limit to your time and effort.  A “no” does not mean that you do not care about the issue or event; it just means your care about your sanity a little bit more.
  10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is a community around you of individuals, whether it is the head of your center for diversity, faculty mentor or friend.  Make sure to reach out to those around you whenever you feel overwhelmed.