Student activists use desire, impulse for change to impact campus community

Taylor Keith

President of Students Against Social Injustice senior Taylor Keith emphasizes the importance of big picture thinking in activism. Keith rejects the idea of instant fulfillment and understands that social justice demands a long-term commitment to change. (Izzy Graziano/knights’ life editor))

While activism can be about coming together to find a solution, sometimes that solution is further in the future than people might think. President of Students Against Social Injustice senior Taylor Keith believes that this delayed gratification can make people misunderstand the actual impact of activism. 

“Activism is a fad. It’s popular when it is and when it’s not, no one does anything,” Keith said. “I think we’re kind of at the point where people just don’t think things are going to change because they don’t see change, but I don’t know. Being here for four years, things are drastically different than they were when I was a freshman.”

As the President of SASI, a group devoted to educating and trying to alleviate social injustice, Keith has gotten involved in multiple areas of the community. Everything from how people of color are being represented in the college’s official promotional photographs to the process of reporting bias-related incidents to the representation of indigenous flags in the MacVittie College Union have merited some attention from SASI. 

Finding the right pathways to act efficiently within an activist context can become one of the more difficult tasks for those who are involved in this area. Keith found that problem in Geneseo comes from the inability to keep up with everything happening. 

“I think it took me two years to get all the connections that I have at Geneseo and it took me two years to actually figure out how to effectively push for change.” Keith said. “If our communication skills as a community  were at the level where they need to be, this would be an activist campus. There are a lot of little activism sparks here and there and I’m like ‘Why don’t you connect with this person?’ but they have no idea who that is.”

Daniel Kahl

President of Geneseo Pride Alliance junior Daniel Kahl had incorporated personal experience into his activist pursuits. Kahl has also collaborated with the college’s efforts to redraft a Statement on Diversity and Community. He also believes each student has a responsibility to pursue individual change.  (Izzy Graziano/knights’ life editor))

The experience of activism can be tiresome for students trying to live their own complex life on-campus. President of Geneseo Pride Alliance junior Daniel Kahl has found that assuming an activist role can be difficult. 

“I’ve always been out and helping people as much as possible, but the role I’ve started to take on on-campus has put me in a lot more professional situations with the administration members, so I feel like I have to act more professional a lot of the time,” Kahl said. 

Beyond activism based around the LGBTQ+ community, Kahl has started to approach issues of how people with disabilities are treated on a campus with regard to accessibility. Part of his interest in comes from a belief that someone who uses a wheelchair “could not navigate this campus” because of the challenging hills and buildings. 

Kahl, who was involved in the rally following former lecturer of sociology David Sorbello’s allegedly transphobic presentation in October 2017, was one of the people who pushed the administration to redraft the Statement on Diversity and Community. Working on the redrafting committee helped Kahl understand how the words of the statement correspond to the realities of the college, including how it guarantees non-discrimination for people with physical disabilities, but does not change the layout of the campus to actually be accessible for everyone.

Kahl argues that individuals  should step outside of themselves to better understand others. 

“This campus has a lot of white, straight, cis people and I remember in the orientation for this campus they said, ‘This might be the most diverse place you’ve ever been,’” Kahl said. “While I’m sure that’s true for a lot of people, there isn’t really any effort to show people that there is a wider cultural experience beyond here. There are a lot of opportunities to meet with new people with different experiences, but people don’t want to step out of their comfort zone to do that enough.”

Thasfia Chowdhury

Political science major sophomore Thasfia Chowdhury has belonged to the activist community since high school. She champions issues concerning women of color and immigration primarily, but also reiterates the value of intersectionality.  (Izzy Graziano/knights’ life editor)

Not every activist will lead a major march or radically reorder the way the world works. Instead, political science major sophomore Thasfia Chowdhury feels that activism should be based on listening earnestly and acting proportionally. 

“It was only when I stopped being so defensive about my way of thinking and began to listen to people, when I realized that there are folks in this world, in our community, on our campus, who have lives that we will never understand,” Chowdhury said. 

Attending high school in New York City provided Chowdhury with her first opportunity to become active in her community. She established a Queens-based group that sought to bring working-class women of color in the community together to discuss self-care and leadership opportunities for women. Chowdhury has been working to bring a similar type group to Geneseo that would provide a place for intersectional dialogues about the world.

At Geneseo, Chowdhury has dipped her toes into cultural clubs like the Black Student Union and the Muslim Student Association, groups explicitly geared toward collective action like International Youth and Students for Social Equality and Students Against Social Injustice as well as more institutional student organizations like the Student Senate and Geneseo Late Knight. Chowdhury emphasizes the essential role that patience plays in allowing people to understand each other. 

“I think it’s important, despite the accessibility of information, for someone who does have some deeper level of knowledge about matters to have conversations with those who don’t,” Chowdhury said. “Sometimes that might be a lot to ask of someone who is oppressed. It’s a lot to ask for someone to explain to someone more privileged why they matter, why their lives are important, why their people shouldn’t be deported … But I think it’s really important and admirable when they do take the time to explain to someone what these very heavy topics mean.”