March 15, 2016

Graduate Students Urge Activism, Public Service on Campus

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Correction appended

Two race, gender and sexuality activists stressed the importance of public service and self-care at the 2016 Agency and Solidarity Conference this past weekend.

Students lack the incentive to become involved in activism and service because they can achieve more recognition through paying jobs, according to Liz Wayne Ph.D. ’16.

“There needs to be some sort of paradigm change that acknowledges the activism and service people are doing for the community and students,” Wayne said. “Otherwise it’s going to self-perpetuate and all the people who aren’t doing that service are the ones who get these jobs, and they in turn aren’t going to care about anything else.”

Xine Yao, grad, added that although participating in activism interferes with academic pursuits, like research, she believes service is a significant part of contributing to a university.

“If you’re going to be a good faculty member, service is a huge part of that,” Yao said. “How can you become a faculty member unless you care about teaching?”

Wayne encouraged attendees not to be discouraged by everyday ups and downs in their endeavors, comparing her mental health to a sinusoidal wave.

“When I’m down, the next question becomes, ‘How do I get myself back up?’” she said.

Yao emphasized the need for relaxation time, saying she needs time to process what happens during her days.

“We need that time [when we’re binge-watching a show] to ruminate and digest all those ideas,” she said.

Another important aspect of activism is picking battles that are worth the effort and knowing when to back down, Yao said.

“Which battles do we chose to fight?” Yao asked. “Do we chose to fight this battle, or do we chose to fight the long battle? At what point do we change the system?”

Makeda Foster ’17, one of the conference’s planners, said she considered the panel a success because it brought different activist groups together, from Black Students United to the Cornell Organization for Labor Action.

“We wanted to connect each of the clubs and organizations and keep that connection going on throughout the year,” Foster said. “We were very happy with how the conference panned out.”

Foster said she felt inspired by seeing fellow women of color discuss activism and its inherent hardships on stage.

“They are basically me, people I look up to,” she said. “It’s necessary for us to be activists, because who else is going to change the world besides us?”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Liz Wayne as a current graduate student. In fact, she earned her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering in 2016.