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Advice for New College Students From a Recent GradCambria Pilger
Right now, the world is rallying around the Black Lives Matter movement. It has given students everywhere a chance to learn how important it is to stand up for what you believe in. Though activism has always been alive and well, it seems that this generation of students has no shortage of causes to rally around, from climate change and conservation to gay rights and social reform — the list is endless.
Being a person of color entering a predominantly white campus is an incredibly daunting task, but for me it was an opportunity to learn how intrinsic racism has become in society today. From experiencing it firsthand to recognizing my personal privilege as a "model minority," college has been a time for me to expand my horizons and a way to comprehend the full parameters of how my privilege informs my life. It opened my eyes to how important even the seemingly small fights can be and how I need to move forward in my personal education so I can help those of more marginalized populations to the very best of my ability.
My friends and I understand that though this may not be the best, most convenient time, with a worldwide pandemic in our midst, there is really never a “convenient” time for change and disruption of the status quo. And the fact is that, right now, this movement is too important to wait — we have to build on this momentum.
Though many families have embraced activism as their way of life, I know some parents are having difficulty understanding and supporting young activists because they don’t know where we’re coming from or why this needs to be our fight too. We’re sorry for our passion or our frustration when we try to explain — the truth is, we struggle not to let our emotions take over.
We desperately want to have these important conversations with you, to connect with you and reach a point of mutual understanding. We recognize that the understanding and patience we are asking from you must also come from us. We know you may never agree with us jeopardizing our safety to fight for what we believe in, but we deeply crave your support anyway. We promise that, to the best of our ability, we will do all that we can to stay safe.
To all those parents feeling lost right now, we understand your confusion. But we need to share our perspective.
Ours is a heavyhearted time. Though we may not have all the answers on how to make things right, we can recognize all that is wrong. We recognize injustice for injustice and know when our hearts cannot bear to watch it continue. This is everyone’s fight.
Understand that being uncomfortable is part of privilege. Being able to decide whether or not you want to be involved in this is also part of privilege.
In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, it seems the racial injustice movement is finally getting the recognition and momentum it deserves. It’s important to remember that this has never been an isolated incident. The deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Brianna Hill, Tony McDade and countless more have all contributed to the fire and determination of protestors and activists everywhere. It’s important to say their names and know their story. Be uncomfortable. It is a sign of your privilege.
Be encouraged as well, and know that now is the time to act and force change while everyone is listening. We can all be a part of a much needed change in our society.
My friends and I — college students and recent graduates — are too old now to live in ignorance and we see too much to remain silent. We believe now is the time that we must fight for all rights, because everybody deserves to have a voice.
We have been told for years that we are the future, that our voices can be used to change the world. We want to stand strong, and be respectful and loving towards one another. This is how we understand society to be, but we don’t always see it enacted in this way.
We want to exist in a world full of peace and unity. We believe that starts with mutual respect. This is the future we want to see. We want to help build it.
The idea of having our beliefs heard and inciting change excites us. We want to make a real difference, a meaningful impact in changing the world for the better.
Thank you, parents, for giving us the tools to get to where we are today. Thank you for being the first to teach us about mutual respect and love, so we can now acknowledge what needs to be done. You taught us to find our voice, to use it to stick to our convictions and stand up for our beliefs. That we can be the difference the world needs. I know this may not be where you thought all those lessons would go. We also hoped it would not need to turn out this way.
There are so many different ways to get involved and it can be a great way to spend quality time together. Maybe attending protests during a pandemic is a non-negotiable for your family. But everyone can spend some time educating each other on important issues and figure out what kind of support you can all provide in the meantime.
Take the time to dig into different educational resources as a family. Watch documentaries, listen to podcasts, read books. Try to reach a mutual understanding and formulate an action plan. (Find my ideas for what to read, watch and listen to below.)
I encourage students and parents to enter this conversation with patience and compassion for one other. Though these are unavoidably emotional topics, it is important to keep acceptance at the forefront of our minds.
There are a variety of different organizations that need donations or petitions looking for signatures. Even just spreading awareness of the issue can do wonders towards making a difference.
If you can, donate to Black Lives Matter, NAACP, Black Visions Collective, or make a commitment to support Black-owned businesses. Do some research and make donations to the organizations you feel most closely align with what’s important to you.
Some students are going through things they no longer need to sell on eBay and donating the proceeds to different organizations and businesses fighting for change. Countless others are taking to social media to promote awareness and direct their audience towards easy ways to help: signing petitions, showing up to vote, donating if you can, or showing support to organizations working for change.
Making a family commitment to some concrete ways to contribute is an amazing way to show your student your support and will help them understand that, though you may not be comfortable with everything they want to do, you will work with them to find a compromise so you can all continue to make an impact.
The official Black Lives Matter Foundation was founded in 2013 in response to the horrific murder of Trayvon Martin. Their work centers around building local power to intervene in violence against Black communities and they have excellent digital resources that can help you understand the deadly biases against the Black community and continue the important conversations. Check out their What Matters podcasts, documentary narratives and activist shorts.
Monster, a novel by Walter Dean Myers, is particularly relevant now as it tells the story of a sixteen-year-old boy convicted of a crime he may or may not have committed but is serving time for nonetheless. The book is available as both a traditional novel and a graphic novel, for whatever best suits your tastes.
Tim Wise, an American activist and writer, is one of the most influential anti-racism educators today. You can find some of his amazing talks on YouTube or pick up one of his seven books on systemic racism.
Check out the talks in this playlist from TED celebrating Black History Month for insights and perspectives into Black identity. Listen to the narratives of these extraordinary trailblazers. Let them inspire you and teach you.
For those looking to understand privilege and learn how to dismantle it, this thought-provoking interdisciplinary journal is free to download and covers many different intersectional aspects of privilege and unconscious bias.
College move-in is approaching! Help your student prepare by making sure they have everything they need for a successful freshman year.