On Sunday, April 27, approximately 30 students gathered in 200 Church to discuss on-campus activism, community service, social justice, and the discourse surrounding these issues. WesDEFs Yael Horowitz ’17 and Hannah Eisner ’17 facilitated the hour-long discussion, entitled “How to F*ck Sh*t Up: A discourse on activism at Wesleyan.”
The event began with several activities designed to make attendees think critically about their own relationship with these terms, including a word association game. Afterward, it opened into a more free discussion, with a particular focus on the idea of revolutionary service.
Horowitz explained the difference between revolutionary and community service.
“[Revolutionary service’s] end is not to establish itself in the community, but more to eradicate the need for whatever service [it provides],” Horowitz said. “Whereas community service is something that if that institution had not been there or isn’t there anymore, it wouldn’t exist. It’s kind of a community establishment.”
She further stated that the University community needs to place more of an emphasis on revolutionary service.
“I think a lot of the causes that deal with Wesleyan itself should be revolutionary service, and that requires a suspension of disbelief and allowing yourself to be a young idealist to some extent,” Horowitz said. “It relies to some extent on changing the mentality [about] things. For revolutionary service to be able to exist, there needs to be a baseline of shared responsibility, to know that the work you do isn’t going to be undone by someone else.”
Horowitz also acknowledged the importance of community service and stressed that it must be practiced in a sustainable and respectful way.
“I think it is more about a paradigm shift about the way people think about the work we do in Middletown,” Horowitz said. “Not doing it for Middletown, but doing it with Middletown and establishing connections and partnerships with the people who are actually permanent residents here so that, even when those specific groups of student leave, these institutions can stay or these practices can stay, instead of relying on Wesleyan.”
During the discussion, attendees were encouraged to speak about their opinions about activism, community service, and revolutionary service, both at the University and in the abstract.
Claire Marshall ’17 spoke to the necessity of creating partnerships among different social justice groups and recognizing that most are working toward the same goal.
“I think the first step is intersectionality and forming some mode, probably through social media, to really help groups be informed about what the collective goal is,” Marshall said. “I believe there is a collective goal and it’s just about finding a way where we can acknowledge that we’re all asking for the same resources because we all want the same things and figure out how not to butt heads. Step two [is] involving the community as a whole and not just the self-selected group that participated in this conversation, figuring out how to move beyond preaching to the choir.”
Marshall stressed that the community and atmosphere of the University is ideal for creating these kinds of partnerships, and encouraged activists to take advantage of the circumstances.
“I think that it’s very productive to make [service] a lifestyle, especially in the context of Wesleyan,” Marshall said. “[In] a liberal, critical sphere of young minds, there is the potential to start these conversations figuratively anywhere you go with anyone around.”
At the end of the forum, all attendees were encouraged to share their reactions to the discussion and its impact on their relationships with these ideas.
“I think that…the most understanding I’ve ever had of activism has come out of today,” said Zac Kramer ’17. “I’ve been passively involved, and I still don’t know how to balance my life and get rid of my apathy and get involved while still being a student and still having my own personal aspirations, but I think all the seeds of all the different points that I need to debate with myself to get that point were mostly planted today.”
Ultimately, the facilitators aimed to get attendees thinking about the nature of activism, and specifically the social justice reforms that have been discussed on campus over the course of the year.
“There’s been so many things that have been happening on this campus all year long in terms of degendering the bathrooms and sexual assault and USLAC and WesDivest and divesting from companies that profit from the occupation….” Horowitz said. “It’s important to reflect on that, congratulate what has been done, see what hasn’t been done, and evaluate where we are and where we can go.”