Undergraduate students are often looking for ways to increase their leadership skills and get involved on campus, and this is where student government is an amazing resource. It can be a place for students to grow while learning how to better serve their community. However, while student government is a dedicated space for college and university students to voice their concerns, it’s often a difficult space for student activists to navigate. Student activists are usually perceived as “aggressive” or “annoying” by their peers elected to represent them, and can be easily dismissed in student government communities.
These difficulties multiply for students who are dedicated activists and student government representatives. Activism is, first of all, a draining pursuit that sometimes (many times) sees very few victories. In deeply conservative states, these losses add up: in some years, every campaign, election, and organizing initiative is a loss, and each blow hits harder and harder. Each defeat makes it mentally, emotionally, and physically more difficult to engage in activism, and the additional burden of also being in spaces where you may not be welcomed, like student government, compounds these blows further. Student governments should be spaces in which student activists feel the most empowered, but often times they are not.
To those activists in student governing bodies: keep going.
To be a good representative, you must understand your community. No one better exemplifies this better than student activists, who understand and advocate for their community no matter what spaces they are in.
The intersection of activism and representation is where substantive policy is made. As both an activist and former vice president of my student body, I fully believe governing and representative spaces are for those who understand that change must be made for the betterment of others. No other community knows that more than the activist community; we know the devastation, hardships, and injustices that impact the community at large, and can bring these issues to the forefront of formalized representative bodies.
For those who choose to pursue this path, there will be very difficult times in the middle of these two responsibilities. There will be passive-aggressive eye rolls, awkward tensions, and dismissal of your viewpoints from fellow student representatives. But no matter the push back you face as a representative, know that you are doing your job by advocating for others. Your dedication to advocating for your fellow students may be seen as “dramatic” or “exhausting” by others in student government, but do not be deterred from doing what you’re good at–advocating for others! Your activism and empathy is a strength–a superpower–in representing your student body, and we need a lot more of it in the spaces in which decisions are being made.