When you come to college, there are so many opportunities to get involved. One common way for students to get involved is through advocacy.
However, for some, advocacy can be intimidating. How do you get involved? What if you don’t know anyone? What if the people don’t accept you? What if you’re interested in an issue but not as knowledgeable as some of the current members seem to be?
Read these tips to eliminate “what if” from your vocabulary.
1. What if I’m from a less diverse background?
If you’re coming to college from a small town, you might be passionate about feminism or race issues, but you might feel that your understanding of these issues isn’t quite up to par with other people’s understanding. That’s OK. Current members have been in college for a while; they’ve met new people, taken classes that altered their perspective and gone to campus presentations about a wide range of topics.
Chances are, you didn’t have these opportunities in high school, and there’s no reason you should be condemned for that. As long as you’re willing to listen, consider new ideas and learn, you’ll be fine. Everyone is still learning, and you’re not alone in that. If a group seems uninviting even when you’ve demonstrated that you care and you’re willing to learn, maybe it’s not the group for you.
2. What if the other members don’t like me?
You don’t have to be best friends with everyone in any organization. However, you should be able to interact with each other respectfully. It’s definitely intimidating to step into a room of unfamiliar faces, but most people will be excited that you care about the same issues they care about. Remember, people express excitement in different ways and just because everyone isn’t super, outwardly friendly right away doesn’t mean they don’t like you. Be respectful, listen, and contribute when you have something you want to say. It can take time, but you’ll start to feel like a part of the group as you get more involved.
And if you don’t, and you don’t feel valued and respected, then maybe it’s time to join another group. First, however, analyze your own contributions; do you attend meetings? Do you listen to people? Do you participate in events? It’s important to recognize the difference between being an active member who isn’t valued and being an inactive member.
3. What if the organization doesn’t align with my values?
So maybe you’re passionate about feminism, and this one feminist organization sounded perfect to you. However, once you join, you realize some of your opinions don’t align with the group’s stances. This can be OK, depending on the situation. Many groups recognize that members can care about the same issues but have different stances. If a group doesn’t accept that, there’s no reason you have to stick around and not be able to openly express your opinions. Also, if the organization strongly supports or doesn’t support something and you don’t agree, it might be hard for you to deal with. Make this decision for yourself; does the group make you feel like you have to compromise your own values? Do their values upset you or make you uncomfortable? If so, it might be time to speak to a leader in the group or switch to another group.
4. What if I don’t have enough time?
Getting involved on campus can be a big time commitment, but in my opinion, it’s worth it. Consider what you can handle before committing to an organization. If you have a packed schedule this semester, you could always participate in one-time service projects instead of joining an organization with weekly meetings and required service hours.
5. What if I can’t decide?
If you haven’t been exposed to much advocacy before, you might not know where your skills and passions would be valuable. If this is the case, try a few different groups or projects that aren’t big commitments and figure out what you like. With hundreds of organizations and tons of social issues, it can be difficult to decide what you care about most. Pick a few organizations that you care about. You can still be an advocate without being a part of a formal group; participate in projects and attend events for other causes you care about.
6. What if I’m different?
If you’re from the suburbs, your understanding of urban education might be limited. That does NOT mean that you can’t care. Don’t feel as though you can’t join a group because you’re “not like” the other people involved. Each group needs diverse voices and perspectives, and you should not run away from groups you care about simply because you think you won’t fit in or be accepted. If you care, that’s what matters. If you’re passionate, that’s what matters. If you’re an advocate for other people despite your differences, that’s what matters. It doesn’t matter how you look or how you dress or where you come from. What matters is that you’re eager to learn, get involved, and make an impact.