One of my favorite aspects of my assistantship was co-advising our feminist student organization, FORCE. Like many student organizations, our students worked to put on social justice programming aimed at critically examining how gender is viewed on campus and in society. As advisors, we worked to support their programming and provide general guidance to all of our members. However, last semester, the role of advising our students began to take on a different shape, as we collectively worked to challenge the status quo.
One Friday in September, our university’s newspaper published a piece on sexual assault that took a strong victim-blaming stance and triggered a few of the students in our group. “We need to do something now,” one of members said at our meeting that following Monday. Our students continued to spend parts of their weekly team meetings brainstorming what they could do to get the newspaper to apologize and, since this was not the first problematic piece published, implement training for their staff. My supervisor and I began to sit with our group to plot, plan, and strategically guide our students through the best strategies to meet their desired outcomes. We edited their petitions, coached them through questions to ask and talking points to bring up at their meetings with the leadership of the newspaper. We helped them design a multi-pronged strategy, and we had our own conversations with campus leadership. We worked with our students to try to reach their desired outcomes. In November, the newspaper leadership agreed to implement trainings with their staff the following academic year.
We were able to see what happens when we stop focusing on whether we have enough soda for the movie night and start focusing on pushing for bigger change on campus. It’s easy to get bogged down in small details that affect the organizations: event contracts, conflict resolution, and whether or not you have the adequate public performance rights to show that particular movie. It’s also easy to not try to disrupt problematic actions on our campuses. However, when you’re able to step back from the small details and see the bigger picture, you learn the importance of supporting our students in their pain and anger.
This post is part of our month-long series #OrgAdvising, an in-depth look at the different aspects of the student organization advisor role. This series hopes to bring front-and-center a role otherwise overlooked or forgotten in the discussion of “advisor.” For more information, see the intro post by Cindy Kane! Check out the other posts in this series too!