with Paige Rentz, Florida State University
Related Article: Interview with Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington
When it comes to advocacy and activism on college campuses, faculty and staff must be aware of context and define their voice to create change, said the Rev. Jamie Washington.
In the pre-conference workshop for the Dalton Institute at Florida State University Thursday, Washington told attendees he wanted to help jump-start the three-day conference with them by creating “a space for a deeper level of open and honest conversation about advocacy and activism”— words that can carry many connotations.
For Washington, who serves in so many roles— in higher education, the church, nonprofit organizations, and a consulting firm— context matters.
How people engage in advocacy or activism, he said, must follow context: that of their position, their industry, their age, and the history and current atmosphere locally, regionally and nationally.
Events and movements, such as the anti-racism movement at the University of Missouri that led to its president’s resignation, can affect the climate on college campuses across the nation, he said.
“It stirs what’s happening here,” he said.
Beyond the roles of time and place, personal context is important.
“Who you are, where you are, how you show up — all of that matters,” Washington said.
“Not only are we considering who I am as an individual and how I show up in the work, but also who I am in my role and what context I’m operating in,” he said.
Washington challenged the participants to find the way to create change that best matches their skills and personality, ultimately finding their voices as advocates or activists.
That means thinking about these issues in advance, he said, and defining one’s voice and therefore, one’s role.
It can be easy, Washington warned, to get caught up in trying to create change in ways other people think they should rather than following their own voices as changemakers. Creating change can manifest in many ways based on the context and one’s role and skills, whether passionately about the issue at a faculty or administrative meeting, supporting students at a rally, writing about an issue, or explaining it through photos or video.
It also affects whether one is viewed as an advocate or activist, a line student staff members have to tread carefully.
Both, Washington said, create change.
“Whether I’m an activist or an advocate,” he said, “I can be a part of the change process, and I can find and define my own voice.”
But in higher education, employees are generally “advocates, with some boundaries,” he said.
Advocacy work, particularly for student affairs staff, takes a lot of energy, Washington said, and can lead to what he deemed ‘battle fatigue.’
“It is now where we show up letting the campus know how valuable we are, and letting them know that we have the skills to navigate this context differently than in other parts of the university,” he said. “But we have to show up with the skills.”