Social Media: Use It, Don’t Abuse It

The title of this post does not refer to the insensate way in which many people update their Facebook statuses with mundane and useless information about their daily lives every five minutes. Instead, I hope to reflect on the way that social media and the Internet can either be utilized as a dynamic tool for social change, or an outlet for passive complaints.

To the seasoned activist, social media presents several new opportunities. As the Gladwell article, “Small Change” and the Land article, “ Networked Activism” pointed out, the Internet creates a space to generate new ideas and connecting movements worldwide. Although there may not be one large online activist movement, the Internet can better facilitate communication between existing movements and social issues. For example, thanks to many fact sheets that were made accessible on websites created by National Women’s Law Center and Planned Parenthood, I was able to create fact sheets and resource guides this summer at my internship at Ms. Foundation for Women. I was able to more easily link aggregate facts to the political climate to create a unique resource for the Foundation; a resource that can be used by other researchers and reporters but also a resource that will help transition the goals of the foundation as they gauge what is currently most important to various movements. Resources such as these can make moments of solidarity more tangible, if done correctly.

Social media has also provided an efficient method of participation. I do not associate the word participation with the same negative connotation that Gladwell uses when he distinguishes participation from motivation for social change. Instead, I see participation as a key component of the activist movement. There is little effort and responsibility required to give small sums of money to a cause, and yet every cent raised on a breast cancer awareness website is one cent closer to a cure. Giving has become easier with the help of Twitter, Facebook, and websites, and should be recognized as an important aspect of activism. After all, many nonprofits and Foundations alike survive on donations. And now that giving has been made easier (just click a button!), it is more likely to occur.

However, these situations are specific to those who are already activists and operate through other mechanisms for social change as well, often times in some sort of hierarchy. In these situations, social media is a supplement, or a means to a greater event, rather than standing alone to create social change. People must recognize that Internet activity alone cannot facilitate meaningful change. Such is the case with the current Duke student “activist” attempts so be heard by the administration.

Recent decisions have been made by Larry Moneta & Co. that have angered the students; the cancellation of tailgate, the Merchants on Points change, rumored renovations to West Union, and of course the changes to the Housing Model. The main argument on campus has been that the administration fails to include students in the decision making processes that ultimately impact them the most. Over the past weeks, student displeasure has reached a new high. Many Chronicle articles have been written commenting on the pitfalls of the administration, and someone has even created a blog: and a Facebook group: that call for the dismissal of several administration. The Facebook group even contains a manifesto of sorts that argues “Students have a voice in their administration, as they are stakeholders […] students are permitted their civil rights- Students are permitted their civil rights – including but not limited to the right to assemble, the right to speak freely both for and against their administrators, and are entitled to the presumption of innocence in student conduct investigations [and] The undergraduate experience is a cherished one that is not significantly altered without input from students, alumni, faculty, and administrators. No one group has sole exclusive license to do what they want without any constraints – especially not administrators, whose role is not dictatorial control but instead to manage the affairs of this great university.”

One hundred and seventy-two students are attending this Facebook group, and there have been over 200 comments on the Chronicle online in response to articles. However, these battle cries lack both strategy, and even a basic layout of the battlefield. Because students do not know what radical activism looks like, and very few understand the steps to mobilization and organization, these groups are nothing more than a group of children whining and not getting their way.

However, even the few students who do understand what it may take to get their voices heard do not step up to do so. One student’s recent Facebook status reads “Quote from Arthur “If Duke kids want to do more than just protest the Admin on Facebook, start organizing shifts of protesting students to stand in front of the admissions building and shadow tour groups handing out pamphlets about how LMo/et all have taken away our rights. That’ll get news/alumni attention pretttyyy fast.” An online comment to the Chronicle article “The best of Larry Moneta”, states “Maybe we students need to start demonstrating and telling applicants to stay away from Duke. Much as it breaks my heart, maybe daily demonstrations outside the Admissions Office would convince the administration they’re in the wrong”. These comments, although recognizing the steps that need to be taken to create the social change that is desired, are still missing one important element: accountability. No one is willing to step up to organize and be held accountable to actions and to each other, and thus anonymous complaints online are far more common.

Students cannot truly be considered activists until they recognize that true change can not occur without action. Social media can be one tool for organization, but not the only one. Perhaps if DUU or DSG (respected and organized groups on campus) sent out an email or a created a Facebook group to host an event to rally outside Larry Moneta’s office, or hand out fliers to incoming students to drum up publicity, things would begin to change. Decisions need to be made and students need to become accountable, but the Internet provides too many anonymous, risk-free opportunities to defer the responsibility to someone else. So who will it be?


Ready for battle: community service versus solidarity

During the DukeEngage Academy (the 2-day pre-departure training session for all DukeEngage students), we discussed “community service,” “help,” and “partnership.” This week we asked students to think about “How have your notions of what these words mean shifted if at all?  Has it changed what you will do in the future or how you think about past experiences?”

Stephanie Kershaw has interned at the Ms. Foundation this summer.

“Community service”, “Helping”, “partnership”, “solidarity.” What do these words mean? If there is one thing I have learned for certain this summer it is that language and vocabulary are pivotal in the non-profit sector. The words we choose must be accessible, understandable, and relatable not just for the organizations that use them, but for the communities that they hope to create change in. Ultimately, the terms that are chosen have to be appropriate for the situation; however I do have some immediate reactions to several words that we have been grappling with going into this summer.

“Community service.” Community service never meant anything to me except obligation turned extra-credit. When I lived in Maryland, it was a graduation requirement that I came to detest. There was no sense of urgency or desire to be the change I wanted to see in my community, rather I would often times hunt for the easiest, most convenient means necessary to complete the mandatory 75 hours. I “served” my community by cleaning out stalls at a local rescue horse shelter, tutoring younger students occasionally, and attending “mission trips” for Youth Group (imagine my delight- it was killing two birds with one stone since Youth Group was a gold star that my parents always wanted to see) that never forced me to give up too much time for other things. It became exactly what the word described: “service,” doing work for someone in exchange for something else which in my case was the opportunity to graduate. There was no purpose, no end goal other than the diploma. Later, after we moved and the service requirement no longer loomed over my head, those 75 hours I had accrued became a symbol for colleges that I was a contender. Not only was a good student, but I also participated in a plethora of extra curriculars including community service?? I must really have my priorities straight.

This is not to say that this is what community service is to everyone. I am sure that many people use the term to describe the actions that they take in their lives to better the community. But in my experience, this often involves simple, band-aid actions of fleeting involvement. A task may be completed, but it is very surface level. What actually changes? The reason that the issue or disparity is present is never explored and remedied, and even more than that, there is a strong sense of “helping them”, “for them”. There is no understanding or recognition of a collective fight.

In contrast, this summer has given me a moment of “solidarity”; a strong sense that my struggles are linked to the trials and tribulations of others. At the Ms. Foundation, I would often hear the staff talk about their goal of “bringing the margins in.” The thought is that if we provide access and fight for social change from the margins, inward, then collectively we will fare better. This made logical sense to me, and I felt myself continually nodding along meeting after meeting- “yeah yeah yeah, makes perfect sense. Got it. Ok great.” However, after working on my economic and immigrant justice fact sheets, I would still find myself recounting these facts to friends in horror and saying “this is such an injustice….for them” (them being women in poverty or migrant women). I had no sense “their” struggles were in anyway linked to mine. When I started my reproductive justice fact sheet however, it was like I suddenly had all the pieces of the puzzle. Through that fact sheet, the connection to abortion and rights to make safe, educated decisions about our own bodies, I began to piece together how these were not just “immigrant issues” or “welfare issues” but women’s issues. I can see now that reproductive rights are directly linked to health care, to economy, to education, to class, to location, to legal status, to violence and completely encompassed in this broader scope of power dynamics. It was an “aha” moment of solidarity, and also a moment of real understanding of what it means to be a part of a women’s collective; like an army, we stand together through every skirmish, not just the ones that we feel like fighting.

I am not entirely sure that I have found the right word that resonates with my when talking about the organization and mobilization for social change. As I previously mentioned, different situations call for different vocabulary. Sometimes “collaboration” or “coalition” are an option (words I am learning to navigate), while sometimes “helping” with an understanding of implicit privilege and offering up your resources is best. What is important is that everyone agrees and understand in the language within the situation so that if nothing else, everyone is on the same page.

Moxie makes me think

Stephanie is interning with the Ms. Foundation.

Realizing, reassessing and restructuring almost 21 years of how I think about my experiences, what my values are and how I act on them, is no easy task. How do you come to terms with your race when you’ve never before realized the implications and inherent privileges? How do you develop your voice when coupled with a growing fear of sounding ignorant? Lately, I find myself either constantly defensive, or angry because I don’t know how to deal with the way I am being challenged. Because that is what Ada and Erin are doing. Challenging me. All the time. And I am at constant dissonance now with how I have felt for almost 21 years, and how I feel now.

The challenges I am facing every day are perfectly illustrated in a seminar discussion we had two weeks ago. The conversation quickly turned into a discussion about privilege. This conversation  really struck a nerve with me. I have never intentionally treated anyone differently based on their gender, age, color of their skin, sexual orientation, etc. I was raised better than to pass judgment or live a life that implied I was more deserving than anyone else. However, the passionate way Erin started talking about race and white privilege felt so accusatory, and there was nothing I could do to defend myself. I am white. This was the first time anyone had made me think that this was a bad thing. I realize now that at the time, I had only been hearing half of what Erin was saying. But in that moment I felt guilty, angry, and hopeless. Guilty because I felt there was nothing I could do to combat the inherent white privilege that I was born with. Guilty because I had never realized it before. Guilty for exploiting it for almost 21 years. Then I became angry. Angry because they were wrong, I’m not privileged. Angry because I was being judged for my skin. Angry because this was something I had never wanted to realize. Angry because it was complicated, and I couldn’t understand.

Hopeless, was the worst. If I had this privilege, how could I ever hope to make a difference for anyone other than white middle class women like myself, since I would never be able to relate to the experiences of others in the same way? Hopeless, because I felt I would never understand. Hopeless, because I felt that there was nothing I could say, either in my defense, or to contribute, because I felt like this silly little white girl. I felt like a cliché.

Earlier this summer, I had set a goal for myself to find my voice. And here I was, slumping into my chair, clenching my jaw about to burst with a wave of thoughts and questions, but not saying anything. Why? I am afraid of being ignorant. I am afraid of not thinking the right way. Of being not a good enough feminist. I am combating this by always trying to read more, to educate myself, but until I feel I have given myself an adequate enough learning curve, I don’t know that I will feel comfortable enough to have a voice. I feel that I only have one piece of the puzzle, and it’s not enough to have a real opinion.

This way of thinking is also proving to be a problem in my recent undertakings at work. I have been assigned the task of making a fact sheet on Women and Health, particularly Women and AIDS and Women and Reproductive Justice. Reproductive Justice largely encompasses women of color. Who am I to create a fact sheet on this? What is the appropriate framework, vocabulary, perspective? I do not know how to orient myself in these statistics, and present them in a way that does not further marginalize these women.

I hope that simply realizing these things is a good first step, but I am uncertain of where to go from here. Fortunately, some concepts that I have managed to grasp are keeping me from total pessimism. I like the idea that the individual has the power to exhibit activism every day, and every contribution helps a collective. In regards to my privilege, all I can do is to learn when to step back and let someone else’s voice, a more important voice, be uplifted. But I am still learning. It is daunting and exhausting, and I am worried that if things keep up this way, I will burn out. Life was easier in my bubble. I realize easier isn’t better, and at this point, I could not go back to my previous way of thinking now that I have started to realize this dissonance. However, I need to learn to be more aggressive in articulating this disconnect. I don’t think I can be an activist, or a feminist for that matter, and be afraid of saying the wrong thing. Maybe I need to learn to say the wrong thing and learn from my mistakes. I need to learn to take risks.

But realizing this, and actually taking risks, are two entirely different things. This  is my next challenge.

All I Knew

Stephanie is a rising Senior and is interning in Brooklyn, New York at Ms. Foundation for Women, which delivers strategic grants, capacity building, and leadership development to 150 grassroots organizations around the country.

I knew that Ms. Foundation for Women is a leading social justice foundation and delivers strategic grants and leadership development to 150 grassroots and national advocacy organizations throughout the country. I knew that the dress code was “business casual”. I knew I would be joining the communications team. But that was all I knew.

I had no idea what to expect as I rode up the elevator to the top of the Metrotech Center. My ears popped. I was on the 26th floor. I smoothed out the wrinkles in my skirt, and tried to look as professional as possible. I was surprised when I approached the large, glass doors and my visions of a traditional corporate office vanished. I should’ve known, Ms. Foundation is hardly traditional in its programmatic area’s, why should the office follow traditional patterns either. Much of the building was glass, even office doors were clear, open, and inviting. The view was spectacular; the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, the Hudson River, all available in a panoramic sweep of the windows.

As I was introduced to each member of the staff, I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity within the office. Then, when I was assigned my first project, I began to realize just what I had gotten myself into. My task, both personally and professionally, is to realize the issues of Women and Economy, Women and Violence, and Women and Health while taking into account disparities and differences across race, class, immigration status, and region. It is both a daunting and exciting task.

My history and interest in Women’s issues is brief, and I am slowly realizing, limited and naive as well. My focus before was solely on women. Never before had I truly understood the implications of these other elements, and as I began my research and the statistics became thesis, I started to see just how sheltered and narrow my life in Durham is. I had always prided myself on being both adaptable and comfortable when greeted by diversity. My family had moved my Junior year in high school from rural, “white bubble”, middle of no where Maryland, to the multi-cultured melting pot of Durham and Duke University. But how much had I really taken advantage of my new surroundings? At school and home, I have built myself a network of likeminded individuals, who share similar experiences, passions, and problems. I am beginning to see how unaware I had been, and I realized I knew even less than I had previously thought.