Student/ECP Corner

Social Justice and Systemic Change: A Call to Action for Students and ECPs

As students and early career professionals (ECPs), a good majority of us have had more exposure to education and formal training in the areas of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) as it relates to education, training and the work that we do, allowing us to serve as change-makers in a multi-generational workforce.
By Shawndeeia Drinkard, PhD

Shawndeeia Drinkard, PhD Welcome to 2019. I hope that this year brings an outbreak of positive change and hopefully the birth (actual and symbolic, of course) of many change-makers. As students and ECPs, we may find ourselves in a room of folks who are more senior to us that have less information and experience in areas related to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). Sometimes sitting in spaces like that can feel tense and uncomfortable. You might find yourself as a less senior person feeling the fear of being negatively evaluated and judged for being a “squeaky wheel” when introducing issues related to EDI or other social justice related concerns. 

Although these spaces can be tense and may feel uncomfortable to work in, the work that you continue to do is of great importance and there is strength in numbers. It is also helpful to practice humility in those spaces and remind yourself that everyone is on a journey and is at different place of understanding of critical issues. If you can ground yourself in that developmental understanding of EDI and social justice related issues, you can put yourself in a better position to make positive change. A key here is checking your own feelings before interacting with others. It is helpful to ensure that you have a safe outlet to express the stress that can arise while doing the important work of a change-maker in your respective space. Left unchecked, that stress can accumulate and make it difficult for you to make positive change and can lead to other negative personal consequences like compassion fatigue.

My hope is that someone reading this will take this note as a call to action. The call to action is not only for you to do the work to promote EDI and social justice issues, but it is also for you to do the work in caring for yourselves and ensuring that your cup is full prior to offering to pour out. While you may have a lot to offer our field and the world, you matter. Learning the lesson of how important you are is vital as a step toward self-preservation.  As the writer, feminist, womanist and civil rights activist, Aurdre Lorde once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Below, please find a few tips for moving toward social change. If you feel so inclined, share these tips with a friend, family member and/or colleague and engage in a discussion about other tips to further help one another on your separate and shared missions.

  • Get Educated about the Issues.
    If you are hoping to make change, it is vital to know what you’re talking about and if possible the history of conversations that happened before your time. This may involve for example, talking with people who have historical knowledge of the issues and reading policies so that you have a true understanding of what the issues are.
  • Build a Village.
    There’s an African proverb that notes the importance of a village in raising a child. I believe the same is true for the importance of a village in making systemic change.
  • Engage in Policy.
    Noise-making can be a powerful tool as it sheds light on issues and helps to elevate the “woke-ness” in any given space. As important as noise-making is, engaging in policy can be just as important. It’s hard to dismantle or modify a system from the outside. Getting inside of the system and learning about how it works and how problematic policies and/or rules have been maintained over time is important.
  • Be in It for the Long Haul.
    While on your journey, try to have a marathon mindset versus a sprinting mindset. Many of the systems that we are engaging in have been around for several decades and sometimes longer than that, so try not to lose hope if you can’t make obvious radical change in one year in an academic institution, at a placement site, or on a board of directors. Your voice is powerful and may be planting a seed for someone else to come behind you and fertilize and water it. Do your best to keep the faith.