Guest Commentary: Change requires more than theatrics
Student advocacy groups are an integral part of university life and culture. It is a rewarding experience to be part of a group of students who strive to bring change beyond their campuses. I too have been a part of a school organization, and in my experience, student groups are more effective when raising awareness for their causes in a manner that exhibits energy, mass participation and professionalism.
I believe most groups exhibit the first two qualities; however, many miss the third. Student groups who are loud and overzealous tend to distort their valuable messages, often making for great spectacle and perhaps good publicity, but doing little to communicate their intentions. It is easy to organize people into making a fuss, but it takes greater leadership to effectively communicate to the masses. The distinction is that one gets attention; the other makes a difference.
Growing up in Peru in the 1980’s, I have experienced poverty firsthand, and so it is encouraging to see students bring light to the issues of sweatshops and fair trade. However, it is discouraging to see the energy of student groups go to waste on theatrics, making only for pretty photo-ops in The Daily Cougar. It is additionally discouraging to see the same energy pointed toward UH President Renu Khator. Khator has only been in office half a semester, spending the bulk of that time in Austin lobbying for UH as we strive to be Texas’ next flagship university. For student groups to show up at Khator’s office with stage props and theatrics is unprofessional, misguided and lacks respect for both our president and institutional policy.
I sympathize with my fellow students’ concerns for University businesses adhering to regulations that ensure human rights responsibility; I too have stood beside student groups, both at San Jacinto and UH, that voice similar concerns. I suggest two things that could make group messages more powerful to students and administrators: first, it is important to conduct group demonstrations with composure.
How this is achieved varies according to the issues, but I have seen groups accomplish a lot with little. Outlining other possible solutions and a solid explanation of a group’s foundational cause make for a great communication strategy. Acknowledging these elements offers group credibility and avoids addressing grievances to some general ill or evil of the world.
This brings the second suggestion: be consistent in the issues you are advocating for. One group’s cause may be related to another’s, but they are certainly not the same. Are you a group against sweatshops, for fair-trade, or for worker’s rights? General flip-flopping of issue advocacy does little to gain support and calls in to question your genuine commitment or sympathy for a given issue. A sustained, multi-semester long effort with a consistent message is much stronger in communicating to students and administrators.
Student groups can be much more powerful when they mold their energies in ways that effectively communicate their causes to the University community.
Perea, an anthropology senior, can be reached via [email protected].