When I arrived, I had just attended the ACLU social justice conference with many students from across California who are doing all kinds of wonderful social justice related issues like immigration reform, LGBT community advocacy work, and prison reform. Being recently a part of a club called Campus Allies for Racial Responsibility, I was able to learn the more technical side of social justice work.
With my previous background in the social justice field, I was excited to attend the Sequoia Retreat because I wanted to know the faculty and staff's perspectives about social justice. As students, we rarely get to hear the faculty side of how they pursue their passions. We don't see how limiting faculty executes many social justice goals. We don't get to see the stress and worry that the faculty have in making sure they are supporting students and helping us reach our goals. We don't see at times the support faculty give one another in helping them to accomplish major feats and at other times how the lack of support amongst one another can work against their social justice goals.
The retreat started off with the look into our motivations for the work we do. We had a worksheet where we wrote down how we connect with different areas of our identities; be it race, gender, sexual orientation and more. We got into groups to discuss the identities most salient to us. I was surprised to notice how my religious preferences came up seeing as I am non-religious. I believe it was pointing to the possibility that I need to do some exploring of my own spiritual self. The first session of the workshop helped us connect our identities to our social justice work and explore the concept of morality. I learned that it is hard to choose one social justice goal because you can relate to many of them for similar reasons. I found that it is more about the morality of the people that you want to connect with rather than helping people connect themselves to the work they do.
After lunch on the first day, Michael Fallon who also works at San Jose State University led a relaxing, hour-long meditation as we looked out into the redwoods. Michael let our group know that often times it is not necessary to clear your mind of all thought, but to let your thoughts drift through yourself. I let my thoughts center around my social justice goals, and by the end of the meditation I was at peace with my inner conflicts and self-doubt. If everyone knew their potential to change and understood how their experiences connect to the work they want to do in life, social justice will work itself into the fabric of our society. It is important to wake up ones moral cores and see themselves as a vessel for change. It changes the standard of there being "others" and those who help them. This relates to the starfish analogy that we worked on during the second day of the retreat. The analogy is that you shouldn't just throw a starfish back into the sea before you understand two things: why they are there and what their needs truly are. Often times, this mentality is promoted, valued and encouraged in our society. Many people go around with honest intentions and beliefs that they are doing good for others when in reality, they aren't really solving social justice problems but rather patching up part of the issues.
As a student, my work in social justice is just beginning. I have recently realized that the racial experiences I've had while on campus and the racial experiences I've had in my personal life are not matters that I have to deal with alone. There are many people in the world that work toward anti-racism and anti-oppression in society. I am one of those people now and it's empowering to know that there are ways to live that promote the eradication of these mentally and physically crippling forces. I have realized that I am actually doing something about feeling marginalized and insignificant in my life on campus.
"If everyone knew their potential to change and understood how their experiences connect to the work they want to do in life, social justice will work itself into the fabric of our society."-Chirelle McCorley