The best way to advocate in a classroom is to unapologetically involve yourself in the learning process. I believe it all starts by voicing our opinion on what does not work and opening the conversation for solutions. The unspoken rules of the hierarchy in higher education has created a sort of fear in students that deems them unable to stand up for themselves, thinking that any attempt at advocacy will be muted by administrative bureaucracy, and overshadowed by the blind credibility of the staffing. How can we begin to challenge inequities if we are too nervous to even raise our hand in class? We need to let go of that fear, or embarrassment, because it is not founded in any real danger.
And then we must ask ourselves, what is college really? Because in light of recent events it is not the campus, it is not the lectures, or the professors. We see that now, everything is online (and even with certain factors outside accessibility) it is seemingly running well. What is it then that makes this experience valuable? Us, me, and you, we need to realize that our ideas, our opinions, our perspectives, those are the valuable experiences that we pay for! This is what makes college different than just googling solutions. We have each other to learn and grown from. That’s why there’s school pride, that is why we pick one school over the other, because of the community, we want to be in a place in which our knowledge can be fostered by those who share our ideals.
Who are we to deny ourselves and our classmates the opportunity to find new ways to learn and discuss? Because I know that when I ask my intimidating STEM professor a question that may seem silly, that there’s others that may have that same question too, then the floor is open for more silly questions until the question turns into a dialogue in which the professor can find new ways to present the material guided by what the class is able to grasp. And that is in a small scale. There can and has been change that started with one student saying: “actually things should not run this way because they are not working for me*.” *That me is tied to more than yourself, that me can also mean people like you, and as long as my foot is on the door I will keep it open to let as many people as I can in, and then we will make sure that the door comes off completely.
This is not anything new, so I will end with one of my favorite parts of the talk from Prof. Cottom. Because it is glaringly obvious what we need to do, and tragically real why change does not come. “We know most of the answers! We know exactly what to do! We need strong federal protections for historically minoritized students and their families, and we need protection at every point in the pipeline from k to 20. And, most importantly, we need differential funding. If you want to disengage a student’s outcome from their family of origin you have to fun different kinds of institutions and different students differently. And these policies work! What works, works! But people do not want the leveling effect of educational access and attainment. Though we are in a part of the cycle where we see how it ends. There is no unlimited individual achievement through education without a collective base of benefits. It only works if it works for everybody.