We don’t have to be activists in the same vein as our students. They often have different goals and speak from an alternate lens then we do. I will never ask anyone to join in on protests, especially if they fear for the jobs. What I do ask; is that educators at colleges and universities remember that some the greatest moments of change took place on campus. It is important not only to advise our students but to support them. Whether from the sidelines or the forefront, it is necessary to be there when our students are battling large forces that can potentially overwhelm them. Students are the fabric of our institutions and we must commit to excellence and integrity. Teaching while being thoughtful is a key ingredient to success and advocacy.
Nike taught us two things, from which we all could learn from. They stood out for an activist and made noise even when they didn’t need to.
I’ve been in cases where I’ve advised students from behind closed doors while providing continuous council and blueprints. I let them know how far I’m willing to work and warn them of all the potential consequences. My students always knew I had their back even if I didn’t always express it outwardly for everyone to hear.
As Colin Kaepernick was embroiled in his battle with the NFL, being cut and remaining unsigned, Nike never stopped paying him even though he wasn’t on the field. For the 30th anniversary of their “Just Do It” campaign, they unveiled a new ad featuring the former 49er quarterback. It added the words “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” It was then reported that Kaepernick has a deal to start his own deal, including sneakers, shirts and other apparel. I can’t speak about Nike’s motives but this was a move they didn’t need to make. They have other flaws which need to be addressed and they have already received backlash for their past and most recent decision. Our institutions also have sketchy histories or policies and criticism is a regular occurrence. A balance will the key in our cases.
Additionally, as a student first minded educator, I’ve always made sure the voices of the students are heard. Sitting at a table, where a student either sits quiet or is absent from the meeting is something I’ve experienced countless times. I don’t speak on their behalf but I will assure that any powers that be, know. Supporting our students when they don’t ask for it can be just as impactful as when they request help.
Last month the President of the French Open spoke about implementing a new dress code. He cited Serena Williams’ catsuit as one of the problematic outfits. One must respect the game and the place.
Serena responded “Obviously the Grand Slams have the right to do what they want, but I think if or when they know something is for health reasons… I’m sure we would come to an understanding.” She also added, “Guys, it’s fine.” Joked she said she probably wouldn’t wear the catsuit again anyway because “In fashion, you don’t want to be a repeat offender.”
Well, Nike responded too. They immediately came to Serena’s defense, even if it didn’t need to. They let it be clear whose side they were on without ever mentioning the French Open, a dress code or the word catsuit. Sometimes outsiders with a different yet valuable platform need to make their presence felt.
As educators at institutions, we don’t have to openly defy the word of upper-level administration but we can creatively support the students.
Below are some additional points to remember in advocacy and support of student activists.
1. Always make sure your involvement is positive.
2. Don’t take it personal. Make it educational
3. Create healthy spaces for open discourse
4. Be clear about your intentions while speaking to students
5. Students with a cause aren’t the enemy
6. Be prepared for the backlash
MrJeffDess is the Co Founder of Trill or Not Trill. He’s also a writer, professor, public speaker and emcee of Haitian descent. He is an author of 5 books of poetry, including his latest, Trill Motivation With over ten years of performing and student affairs experience under his belt MrJeffDess continues to strive towards helping students reach their highest potential. For booking information, contact MrJeffDess at TrillorNotTrill@gmail.com or www.mrjeffdessworks.com