Activism has been a passion of mine my whole life. Through my college experience, I feel like I am slowly starting to understand all of the implications that are associated with change that has profound impact. Coming into this role amid a pandemic that is more likely to kill and disrupt the well-being of communities that I am a part of ignited a new kind of introspection for myself. So much so that I don’t think I even realized how much change had occurred within myself up until I made the decision to terminate my relationship and position at the Nexus. The pandemic and my studies have transformed the way I view the world at large and how we as individuals participate and enable systems that are rooted in exploitation and exclusion. Although the pandemic encouraged myself and others to critically challenge the world that we live in, I was naive to believe that everyone shared the same dedication toward systemic change.
And with this revelation lies the bittersweet truth of how we as individuals are so brainwashed into hyper-individualism that we cannot breach the surface toward liberation for those who suffer at the hands of institutions that thrive on power dynamics.
Bittersweet? Truly that sounds more bitter than sweet. But in order to strive toward “radical” (in quotations because there is nothing radical about activism rooted in compassion) change, the solution to our problems is rooted in the acceptance of our reality. In that acceptance are our sweet starting points — uncomfortable conversations that will begin to peel back the surface of our fear-driven exteriors. In order to understand the kind of activism that is needed to uproot systemic issues, those that perpetuate these systems have to ask themselves why they are so threatened by the idea of community. How do fear and ego play a role in hyper-individualism, and how do they contribute to a lack of a desperately needed collectivism?
Through my experience at the Nexus, I saw firsthand how these factors can overimpose and derail from the greater good, specifically when individual interests are able to thrive in hierarchical spaces. Coming into this position, I was eager to have a platform in UCSB media that had great potential to resolve issues surrounding accurate and representative coverage for marginalized communities. My co-chair Pricila and I worked diligently to uncover concerns among the general editorial staff. We soon came to realize that the Nexus’ understanding of marginalized communities was limited because of the role of identity. What we uncovered is that due to individuals’ personal identities and demographics prevalent within the Nexus, a large disconnect exists between marginalized community experiences and the ability to engage with them without coming across as tone-deaf. As hyper-individualism runs rampant in our social conditioning, it leaves little room for compassion, particularly when coming from a community whose survival is rarely and usually never under attack by the system itself.
In addition, the most frustrating part of my experience was the pushback that we received from management, and a few others, when creating a workshop utilizing primary examples from the Nexus regarding rhetoric and internal practices. It felt particularly undermining considering we were encouraged to formulate our own job descriptions and take measures we deemed necessary, as Nexus management was unsure where to start in terms of diversity and inclusion. Our abilities to remain professional when talking about matters of race and other marginalized identities were questioned with the intense insistence of being notified of every single detail of our presentations and intentions. We even had a meeting where decisions were already made for us without the effort of creating some sort of dialogue between D&I and Nexus management. Only with heavy persistence and backing from another editor were we allowed to proceed as planned. These actions are counterintuitive to creating a space of learning and were often driven by fear of the Nexus reputation being jeopardized.
What is concerning is that the Nexus created these positions to dive deeper into diversity and inclusion but was unable to trust that those they hired were capable of doing their jobs adequately. Furthermore, pushback against efforts for critical introspection derails from the opportunity to be transparent and understand how to operate within one’s allyship. Endeavors aimed at cultivating social restorative balance require the acknowledgment of hierarchical structures that enable the imbalance of power. Consequently, the overall efforts to police and silence the position are what have led me to my resignation.
Dismantling systemic issues is a job for the united collective and moves beyond the individual and their abilities.
Despite my concerns with management and a few others, I was able to enjoy great conversations with editors at large. Their enthusiasm and willingness to collaborate with Pricila and I are what kept me in this position for so long. Many editors were extremely receptive to our internal efforts aimed at improving external production. I hope that these editors can continue to engage in their own critical introspection to become better allies in terms of their media presence and within their everyday lives. Unfortunately, I believe that the Nexus and its ability to be a safe space for marginalized communities will continue to be jeopardized unless management follows suit with the rest of their editorial staff.
What I learned from being in this position is that activism naturally generates emotional tolls, especially when you understand the power it has to affect communities that you reside in. The experience was humbling in the sense that I had to come to terms with my own ego and my relationship to activism. I am very much a person who throws themselves into their work. Through this experience, I learned that in terms of activism, no one person — or duo, in this case — has the power to dismantle systemic issues on their own, specifically within an organization that has trouble understanding how power dynamics play a role in systemic concerns. The reality of the Nexus newsroom as it currently stands is more bitter than it is sweet.
Dismantling systemic issues is a job for the united collective and moves beyond the individual and their abilities. My own acceptance of this has facilitated the alleviation of pressure that I had subconsciously put on myself.
Activism with goals of meaningful change values the collective good over the individual, is rooted in equitable measures, resists hierarchical attitudes and is often generated among community members motivated by achieving their own liberation. Moving forward for myself, I hope to engage and work within my own communities and in collaboration with others who share the same dedication to the activism I’ve described and aspire toward.
Former Diversity and Inclusion Co-Chair
A version of this article appeared on p. 14 of the December 2nd, 2021 print edition of the Daily Nexus.