“Freedom is never given. It is won.”
- A. Philip Randolph
“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
- Albert Einstein
What should you do if members experience discrimination or unfair treatment? Or if they identify inequities and social issues that need to be addressed?
It’s hard for one person to speak up, much less to feel empowered to do something about it. Students from under represented communities often have the additional challenge of facing barriers in all aspects of college life.
Organizations that support student agency can provide a space for students to check perceptions, be validated, and think through solutions. In this democratic process, students find their voice and discover they can make a difference.
Listen to Members
Stay in touch with members and listen to what they are going through. If they are experiencing or witnessing unfair treatment or inequities, ask them to describe exactly what is going on and help them imagine several opportunities to fix the problem so they can identify the best way to address the issue.
Establish direct knowledge.
Help members separate out what they know through direct experience from what they’ve heard through the grapevine. Listen and support them in deciding if they want to address the situation.
If a policy, procedure, or institution is involved, read any documented information that is available. Review relevant articles, videos, or photos. If it involves a facility or area, visit the site.
Members sometimes mix in speculation or add drama to a situation. If this is the case, respect and make room for their feelings, but let them know that it's important to be accurate if the goal is to develop real solutions. The group can also discuss how gossip hurts the reputation of the group.
Discuss as a Group
If the issue directly affects other communities make sure to begin by communicating with them. How do they see this situation and possible solutions? How might they experience your group's involvement? Respect their privacy and honor their knowledge and leadership in understanding the situation.
Invite members to raise questions or suggestions. Identify questions that require more research before the group can make any decisions or commitments to address the issue.
If the issue directly affects other communities make sure to begin with communicating with them. How do they see this situation and possible solutions? How might they experience your group’s involvement? Respect their voice and leadership in understanding the situation.
If there is enough information, the group can decide if it has a collective opinion on the issue or wants to work on developing a solution. If so, agree on specific language or do a Resource Analysis and Plan next steps.
To be successful advocates for change, organizations need to understand the environment they are interacting with. It’s damaging for members to work hard on an issue only to fail because the group didn't understand its surroundings or the powers they had to interact with.
What are the interests of the people, offices, or institutions involved in the situation? What might they agree with? What might they consider to be important or non-negotiable? Discuss and research what you don’t know collectively.
Reach out to allies.
Are there other groups or individuals that agree with your organization’s concerns? Ask them what their views are and how they might support you.
Connect the Dots: Power Mapping.
Look into who has the power or authority to make the type of changes your group wants to see. Who are the people involved and how are they connected? How might they influence each other?
For information on power mapping, see the Bonner Curriculum.
After assessing the situation, the group may decide to develop its own solution to the problem. For example, the problem maybe a lack of campus programs that represent the interests of the group. The group could ask the campus to produce the programs and/or could produce programs itself.
Clarify what the issue or problem is that the group wants to address. Brainstorm solutions that the group could design and carry out. Decide which solutions are viable. If the group makes a commitment to following through on one or more solutions, meet again to do a Resource Analysis and Plan.
Responsible advocacy requires honest evaluations of the results. What are the affects of the solutions you designed and produced? How is the group gathering feedback or data to know the affects? If the group is working on a complex issue (e.g. improving diversity on campus) it’s important to gather data over time.
For an example of a group developing a comprehensive solution, see Advocate: A Case Study.
The group may decide to pursue a change that depends on the consideration and decision of a person, office, or institution. Gaining the support of decision makers is a project that requires research and planning.
Make a list of possible solutions and sort out which would be optimal outcomes and what would represent minimal progress for the group.
Develop your presentation. Include your research, reasons, and the support you have.
Decide who will speak for the group.
The first round of negotiations usually gives all parties a better understanding of each other’s interests or goals. Be open to new possibilities. Listen and explore all options.
Bring information and proposals back to the organization and others you represent. Discuss and decide on a response as a group rather than deciding on your own.
Some members may be attached to unrealistic demands because they are self-interested or untrained as organizers. Others may be against speaking up at all because they fear conflict or disapproval. It’s important for the group to sort out the egos and bring the focus back to the goals of the organization and what it collectively finds to be just.
Sum It Up
Some things can be changed easily. Larger social or institutional changes can be more challenging and usually take more than one attempt. Whatever the outcome, members can feel accomplished if they sum up their efforts and gain a better understanding of the situation and know what they want to do next.
Gather everyone involved and go over what happened. Discuss what lessons can be learned from the experience, including what the group or members could do differently next time.
Write down the descriptions and lessons that the group agrees on. Keep the information in the organization’s files where the members can access it easily.
For more on how to hold a Summation Process, see Activity Sheet 8.