November 14, 2017

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | Activism, Burnout and Scented Stickers

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My favorite part about 10th grade math was the sticker I would get when Ms. Ho would walk around the room and check homework. My favorite ones were the smiley scented stickers (specifically watermelon) that she would place on my homework with a smile. The gesture was small, but it felt like a commendation, a validation of my work, and it made me feel recognized.

This semester has been challenging and trying. From a national political climate that attacks our identities, to incidents on campus that have lessened the sense of belonging that many Cornellians feel, this has not been an easy semester. Particularly for those advocating for change, this semester has  tested our resilience and grit. But throughout all this, the students at Cornell have shown their exemplary ability to keep fighting.

This activism can take many forms. Activism is not just protesting and demanding change or showing up to fill the Memorial Room to use our own bodies politically. Activism is sharing ideas — columns in The Sun, poetry, art. Public, open and powerful. Appreciated and recognized.

Activism is also found in the one-on-one conversations we have with individuals where we challenge each other’s ideas on the way to class, in the meetings with representatives and administrators, even the closed-door meetings where no one ever knows the work that you place into a cause. Not as public, but equally important.

And sometimes activism does not produce the desired results.

When that happens, we may experience burnout. As an undergraduate, we are only on campus for four years and it is important to remember that during an ephemeral experience, we often don’t get to see the results of our labor. We are laying the foundation, and oftentimes we will not see the results of our leadership and activism.

There are moments that restore my faith in the work that we do as students, moments where we see the direct result of our work. Seeing column after column advocating for the Cornell Cinema, or affinity groups forming coalitions to advocate for change, and then seeing the change occur. I’ve seen it several times during my time here at Cornell — from the renaming of the Cornell Botanic Gardens to the opening of Anabel’s Grocery. Large, rare victories that act as “scented stickers” for the work that we put into creating change at our university.

As I reflect on my time at Cornell, I keep in mind how emotionally draining it is to put yourself on the line and really commit to a cause. How sometimes the work we do goes unrecognized or the goals of our work aren’t achieved. Know that your leadership is going to lay the foundation on which the future students who fill our shoes will build. Know that your work behind doors, those phone calls late at night, and the time spent in Libe is appreciated and important.

Process is often as important as results. Have pride in the work that you do, regardless of the result. Give those around you a “scented sticker,” because sometimes the work we do goes unrewarded. I’m hoping that this column serves as your scented sticker. The work that you do matters, is important and is recognized.

Dustin Liu is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He is the undergraduate student-elected trustee. He can be reached at [email protected]. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.