Camille Borders

Camille Borders is a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, as a John B. Ervin Scholar. She is the founder of Girls Run the World: Encouraging Political Activism in Young Women. In October 2013 the pilot project was presented in Cincinnati, Ohio. She earned her Girl Scout Gold Award for her work to increase gender equity in politics and was named a 2014 National Young Woman of Distinction; the highest honor in Girl Scouting. On campus, she is a member of Performance Crew, a leadership and performance Slam Poetry group that leads events and workshops on campus and in the community. Her poetry, spanning themes of racialized identity, feminism and sexuality, has been featured across campus in collaboration with The Association of Latin American Students and the Association of African Students. Also, she is an active member of both the Association of Black Students and PRIDE Alliance. She is a facilitator for SafeZones, a student group dedicated to promoting awareness and discussion of LGBTQIA issues. Additionally, as a History major Camille is a member of the executive board for Washington University’s chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the national history fraternity. Following the shooting of Michael Brown, Camille joined Washington University Students in Solidarity (WUSIS): a new student group created to fight against police brutality and racial profiling. She actively organizes actions including on-campus walkouts, protests and demonstrations while protesting in the greater St. Louis community. Through WUSIS Camille has grown to understand the necessity for action to create change. WUSIS is currently in the discussion process with administrators concerning a list of demands including increased minority enrollment, more faculty of color and ways to make campus safer for African-American students.

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Camille Borders's Blog Posts

#WeStandwithMizzou

http://www.justinhophotography.com/
Trigger Warning: white supremacy on college campuses

 

Last Thursday on my campus, Washington University in St. Louis, we had a demonstration standing in solidarity with the students at Mizzou.  Across the country, campuses mobilized to praise the courageous efforts and sacrifices made by Concerned Student 1950, a group of Mizzou students who demonstrated strength and perseverance in the face of violent threats.

The national media attention given to Jonathon Butler’s hunger strike, the football team’s support and Tim Wolfe’s eventual resignation has elevated the issues faced by Black students on predominately white campuses, forcing a national conversation on students of colors’ experiences in higher education.

The reality is frightening.  From Yale to Mizzou, Black students are faced with the reality of living on campuses that are not only physically unsafe but also additionally burdened with institutionalized discrimination and a lack of administrative support.

For me, being Black on campus creates additional stress and anxiety on a day-to-day basis. Like many Black students, I navigate the stress of college coupled with the anxiety that grows out of racial isolation and ostracization from the broader campus community.

For myself and many others, simply the feeling of walking through campus and seeing only a handful of students that look like you is enough to make me feel unwelcome—as though the university cared very little about my success and that of folks who looked like me.  This sense of isolation increases when confronted with university policies that are not conducive to our success and faculty members that don’t prioritize the needs of Black students.  These subversive manifestations of white supremacy weigh heavy on my back and those of other Black students.

Besides the institutional ways racism appears in a college setting, violent physical threats have also been made using anonymous applications such as YikYak.

Below are a couple comments that were made in the fall of 2014 on my campus:

Yik Yak Pic 4

Yik Yak Pic 1

Yik Yak Pic 2

Yik Yak Pic 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These threats exactly mirror the nature of threats made on the lives of Black students at Mizzou this fall.

This is not new.  The bodies of black people have never been ours to own.   Black students deserve to feel safe on their campuses.  I deserve to have a university environment where I can thrive and not just survive.

There are many tangible steps that institutions can take to provide for the needs of black students.  They can provide mental health specialists that are Black, increase the amount of Black faculty and administrators, and provide physical spaces dedicated to Black students—be they houses or even lounges.  This short list of examples is just the beginning.  There are so many ways in which campuses can do better.  And the truth is, they have no option.  They must change or face the consequences of students that are no longer capable of being patient.

Depiction of sign at protest reading "Trans people of color have been shot too."

Remember Their Names

Photo by http://www.meganmagray.com/

On June 26, 2015 same-sex marriage was ruled legal in the United States by the Supreme Court.  At the time, the fight for marriage equality had become the most visible issue for the LGBT community.  Mainstream LGBT activists and organizations touted marriage equality as their top priority and the American public responded — galvanized to action through aggressive electoral, online, and cultural campaigns for the acceptance of LGBTQ relationships.

While same-sex marriage does recognize many LGBTQ relationships in a new way, the ability to marry means very little if one can still be fired, evicted from housing, or harassed on the street for mentioning those nuptials. Taking seriously the concerns of those marginalized LGBTQ people who continue to face systemic violence despite the Obergefell decision means grappling with the reality that the fight for LGBTQ rights is far from over. And, in this particular movement moment, it means seriously asking the question: why is it easier to fight for marriage than the lives of trans folk?

The murder of transwomen — especially transwomen of color — is an epidemic.  Trans folk face not only physical violence but also systematic discrimination and violence inflicted by institutions who often fail to see their identities as legitimate and valuable.   

Trans bodies and particularly trans bodies of color have been consistently de-valued in American society such that the average life span for a trans woman of color is now only 35 years.  Sadly, the lasting damage of this violence is compounded by a lack of visibility for trans murders in the media and in public remarks from major LGBTQ organizations.

To give you an idea of the depth of the circumstances facing trans people, here are some of the most striking metrics available on realities lived by trans folks every day.

1 in 5 trans people experience homelessness.

21% of Black trans people and 16% of Latino/a trans people have been refused medical care due to bias.

There have been at least 23 transwomen and gender nonconforming people murdered in 2015, the majority of whom were Black and/or Latina.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence programs reported that 72% of hate crimes against LGBTQ people were against transwomen, 90% of whom were transgender women of color.

Sitting with and internalizing these data points is helpful to build an awareness of and appreciation for the struggle that is living as a trans person in this country. But, as we all know, that is not enough. Turning rhetoric into action is the first step in making our politics transformative. To begin to make institutional change we must look critically at the ways our politics are complicit in the devaluing of trans bodies.

Below are a couple of beginning steps we can take as a progressive community to create a safe(r) environment for trans folks

  1. Self-Education: Utilizing resources to keep yourself up to date on the unique barriers facing trans folks’ access to employment, housing, and community security. After educating yourself, think about how you can spread that awareness to others in your community.
  2. Advocate: Use your networks to center the voices and needs of trans folks either through social media or other channels. Be sure to your own privilege in advocating for those that might not be able to inhabit the same space.
  3. Volunteer: There are many organizations that focus on creating a world where all trans people are fully liberated. Donate your time and resources to meet their needs. Potential organizations include Trans Women of Color Collective, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Audre Lorde Project and many more.
  4. For additional action steps, see a comprehensive list here.

These suggestions are just the beginning to working towards a world that is safe for trans folks.  Valuing and uplifting the lives of trans folks is vital in creating a world without hate and violence in which we can all get free.


Below are the names of the 21 trans women in the US murdered in 2015, including — most recently — Zella Ziona, a 21-year old Black transwoman from Maryland taken from us on Thursday, October 15th.

Say their names.  Uplift their lives.

Zella Ziona

Kiesha Jenkins

Keyshia Blige

Jasmine Collins

Tamara Dominquez

Elisha Walker

Kandis Capri

Ashton O’Hara

Shade Schuler

Amber Monroe

K.C Haggard

India Clarke

Mercedes Williamson

London Chanel

Kristina Gomez Reinwald

Penny Proud

Taja Gabrielle DeJesus

Yazmin Vash Payne

Ty Underwood

Lamia Beard

Papi Edwards

Bri Golec

 

A group of holds a Black Lives Matter Sign

Stay Woke and Stay Whole: Giving Ourselves the Space to be Free

As activists, we are taught how to become conscious. We are shown statistics, given books and attend trainings to give ourselves a full understanding of the way institutionalized oppression works in our world. But what happens once our consciousness is raised and we are aware?

“To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.”

-James Baldwin

This quote is written on a post-it attached to my mirror. I look at it everyday, as I get ready for school. His words push me to be aware of the world and the implicit and explicit ways oppression manifests itself. Though Baldwin perfectly articulates the frustration of living in a world grounded in white supremacy, colonization and the commodification of black bodies, he doesn’t tell us how to live in this world. Living in this world means moving beyond the rage.

 Don’t live within the Rage

As humans we need to process emotions. It is necessary to feel pain, sadness, trauma and happiness to there full extent. But we need to be very aware of how we let things like anger and rage manifest in our daily lives.

I was on the phone with my mother the other day talking about how I am not as happy as I use to be. I explained to her that at some moments the world is so overwhelmingly sad that I feel unable to function. I told her that I am more angry than I have ever been in my life.

I think this is typical of individuals that are confronted with the realities of systematic oppression in their daily lives and within their community organizing. .

Rage and anger are emotions that need to be felt. They have revolutionary power within them and can be catalysts for radical change. But activist do not need to live within them. We should not and can not live within rage.

As my eloquent mother articulated: When we let anger become our essence we lose the very things we are fighting for.

How do we cope?

Know your foundation

My mom often tells me this story about when I was around six years old in kindergarten. I was outside playing in the sand box and there was another child that was being bullied by a group of kids. The story goes that I went up to the other group of kids and said, “That’s not very nice, everyone should be allowed to play.” My mother cites this incident as the start of my journey fighting for equality and justice (usually said with a touch of sarcasm).

I used to dismiss the above anecdote as insignificant, just a story that my mother had catalogued away to tell. But, recently I have been reflecting on why I do what I do. Exploring the roots of my progressive politics, takes me this story and my core values of treating everyone fairly and with respect. This looking backwards acts a way for me to ground myself in experiences rather than anger at a system and it reminds me that one act can make a difference.

Exercise Self-Care

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

-Audre Lorde

Recognizing the visceral impact that violent acts of systematic oppression have on us is hard work. Sometimes we ignore our exhaustion in favor of continually pushing for change in our communities.  But we must be honest and realize that to do the work that needs to be done; the actions, the protests, the op-eds and constant vigilance we need to be healthy whole humans.  A friend of mine told me “broken people can’t fix broken systems” and this truth has stuck with me.

That is why self-care is political.  Taking time to check in with ourselves is the most important part of providing the fire for change.  For me this means writing poetry, watching Netflix, talking to my friends and dreaming.  Sometimes just closing my eyes and thinking about the countless possibilities in the future gives me peace.

We must all find a balance between the work and taking care of ourselves, and sometimes they can be one in the same.

We must not only stay woke but also stay whole.

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

10 Tips for the Student balancing School and Advocacy

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.