A new school year is about to begin. A new year of lessons, late night study groups, and soul-crushing 8 a.m. classes. Some of you may be about to embark on your first year in this wild thing we call higher education. This may be old hat for some of you. Whether you’re a freshman (or a freshwoman or a freshperson if you prefer) or a senior, there’s a lot in store for you. Even though college often sparks what I like to call “feminist awakenings,” it can be a tricky space to navigate as a feminist devoted to intersectional gender equality. Maybe your syllabus only includes pieces written by cisgender, heterosexual, white men. Maybe you’re one of a few women or trans* or nonbinary folks in a department dominated by men. Maybe your campus isn’t fully accessible because getting ASL interpreters is a complicated process or the only ramp entrances to buildings are up hills. Put all that on top of the “usual” college struggles (fitting in, waking up in time for class, homesickness, sharing a dorm room), and surviving, let alone succeeding, in college can seem impossible.
So I’ve put together a survival guide for college feminists. Full disclosure: I’m about to start my junior year, so I may not be able to answer all the questions. Things from my college experience certainly don’t apply to many other lived experiences. I know college isn’t the right path for everybody and that access to higher education is a privilege. I’m speaking directly to university students interested in gender equality and justice. That being said, I’ve been a very active feminist on my campus while succeeding academically at the same time. Here are some of the essentials for feminists in college:
1.Be Assured in Yourself
I cannot stress this enough. That’s why it’s number 1. College is difficult. Not gonna lie to you. Your classes should be challenging you. You should be getting involved on your campus. You should be discovering yourself. You are your greatest ally in surviving and thriving. Only you have the courage, conviction, and drive to face all the struggles college will throw at you. I’m not saying self-doubt or questioning yourself is a bad thing. You could be discovering new identities or opening your mind to new ideas. But know that you are worthy. You are worthy of love and friendship. Your are worthy of your discipline and studiousness. Be unapologetically you.
2. Your first job is being a student
My mom tells me this on a regular basis, because it’s true. You are here to learn. Think of this as your 9-5 job, and give it all your effort. I’ve heard an administrator tell this to protesting students before, but I mean it in a different sense. If you work at it and pursue your educational goals to the best of your ability, you will graduate college a much more effective and threatening force for change. But colleges don’t make it easy for everyone. Debt, lack of safe spaces, and many other factors actively hinder students’ education. Of course you should protest this and work for change. Just don’t let that consume ALL of your schoolwork. I’m fortunate that my major entails activism. Your major may not focus on political activism, but professors can be understanding when it comes to demonstrating and you could even get extra credit. Once I was spent all day protesting some anti-choice people displaying giant, manipulated pictures of fetuses, so I couldn’t print up an essay (it was on the history of abortion). I told my women’s studies professor as soon as I got to class the reason I didn’t have a copy of my paper. She let me print it after class and deliver it to her office. An art professor made a point of saying he wouldn’t be counting absences during a mass class exit. Being a good student made these conversations possible. Talk to your professors. They’ll let you make announcements before class. They can be excellent allies.
I’m serious about this one. Everything falls apart without self-care. Self-care is especially hard in college, when you’ve got schoolwork, club activities, a social life, and maybe another job. Add in systematic oppression of all sorts and the lack of quality, healthy food and you’ve got a real nightmare. You have to carve out time to take care of yourself. Otherwise your schoolwork will suffer. Your contribution to social justice movements can only be as strong as you are. Self-care takes work and effort, but it’s critical to your success and wellbeing. Feed yourself and try to eat healthy. My campus is a literal food desert because we don’t have access to affordable, healthy food. Eat green things when you can. Try recipes that can spread out nutritious ingredients. You can expand a taco dinner by mixing canned beans and corn into your meat. Exercise. I promise you will feel better. Sleep can be an elusive goal in college, but you gotta do it. Find something that calms and/or rejuvenates you, like knitting or paintball (I play quidditch). Take advantage of your school’s health center, which probably has free counseling. Pride Centers, Women’s Centers, International Houses, and Black Student Unions are also great resources when it comes to self-care and safe spaces. Find your safe spaces on campus and chill out there.
4. Find your movements
You’re a feminist in college. Find your people. Find a community that uplifts you and shares your beliefs. You will be motivated and inspired by your fellow feminists. Sure, you can foster feminist discussions in your classes and amongst your friends. But feminism is a call to action. Roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. If you’re interested in reproductive justice, there’s probably a group on campus that gives out condoms and yells “Lit for lube!” on a regular basis. See what programming your Pride Center has and volunteer with them. If your school doesn’t have a Pride Center, lobby to get one! If there isn’t a feminist group on your campus, start one (Pssst. FMF has a great program for college groups). Learn from your peers, and be an ally to them. I can honestly say that student activism has been a highlight of my college experience thus far. If you hunger for social justice, start working on a campus level.
These are the basics for surviving college as a feminist. There is so much more I could say, but college really is about you finding your way. Use this time to learn more about what you can accomplish, as an activist and as a student. The two aren’t really that different. You might surprise yourself.