Acting like you care is not enough

Let’s talk about performative activism — what it means, how to avoid it and what it does to us as a community.

Robin Doyscher, Guest Columnist

So, a lot has happened lately. There’s been administrative drama, departmental shakeups, student organizations getting geared up for the new year — we are living in unprecedented times of having so many irons in the proverbial fire. 

Last week especially saw a fair bit of hurt expressed by many members of this university community. Yes, I am in fact referring to the current presidential PR debacle that snowballed very heavily in person and on social media. And no, I’m not referring to the time Joe Biden did that thing that I’m sure 50% of the country is really, really upset at. I am instead referring to the president of our university.

There was a protest recently and while I hesitate to even write these words — I feel that because I am a trans woman and a person of color, this article needs to be a bit more measured than “ha ha, funny girl says silly things” like my usual columns. 

I really respect our community when it can come together towards a common goal and sometimes, that common goal is giving the finger to the actual university — and you know what? That’s great. I can get behind saying “screw you!” to the authorities but lately, I feel as though a lot of students are really missing the mark in what they’re putting their energy towards.

President Miller’s remarks were in deeply poor taste, yes. Classist? Probably. Rich people are classist, as are a lot of students that attend this very university. Hierarchies of wealth and social power don’t just disappear in college or among students, but at times I find myself feeling a little disenchanted with the way that this university handles activism. And this is an indictment moreso of the culture fostered by Hamline University than its student body.

At least once every year, this campus has hate speech incidents, racially-motivated incidents, trans and queerphobic incidents or horrific sexual assault cases, and yet so little of the general student body gathers outside of Old Main to campaign for the people suffering from these awful occurrences. 

Where is this amount of support for things like the FRC and the Women’s Resource Center? They’re completely underfunded and undervalued resources on campus, whose members tirelessly work to bring better access to basic necessities to a campus that largely ignores them. Where is this energy for how often student code of conduct breaches targeted towards marginalized communities go without any recompense?  

I’m impressed that people can put together a protest in one night to address our university’s president, but saddened that this level of community organizing is never directed towards protecting our fellow students. Apologies and open forums are great, but there have to be actual and tangible goals that follow. 

I truly believe that we have the power, as a group, to do some serious good on this campus, but so much of this last week has been aiming our outrage at an easily identifiable symbol of larger systemic issues — completely skipping over the ways this university has again and again failed queer, trans and POC students. 

I really care about what happens to this community — I’ve been a part of it for the last four years of my life. While I am graduating in 2023, there will still be dear friends and wonderful faculty members at this university fighting the good fight for a more equitable educational system. 

I worry that a lot of these excellent people will not have their voices heard because outrage politics has become the only language which rouses us from our complacent slumbers, and every single one of us is complicit in one way or another. We all have to learn and grow. Nobody gets it right because we’re not meant to get it right — we’re meant to iterate and metamorphize our efforts into real change that can impact the spaces we live in right now.

I write this not to blame the members of our community that aren’t queer, trans or POC, but to earnestly ask what you believe is being platformed. Is there a sincere hurt being felt, or is it the weariness and tiredness so many of us feel? Is this being shoved under a soapbox meant for those who are simply angry to step on top of it? 

Audre Lorde, one of the most profound black feminist writers of the last century wrote in her 1982 piece, “Learning from the 60s” that “You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other. I do not have to be you to recognize that our wars are the same,” and I think that’s something we’re forgetting. 

Freedom from systemic hurt helps all of us — and we have to seriously consider if we’re aiming for a more just world, or simply just a more polite one that spares ourselves from wounds that cut deeper than we realize.

Anyways, next week since we sat through this heavier opinion I promise to absolutely rip into another dead celebrity of our readers’ choice. So send in those ballots, people!