Author: Marisela Castro, SJSU Student Engaged-Learner, Guest Writer
When people hear the word “activist” or “activism,” a myriad of different definitions may come to mind. You may immediately correlate the word with connotations like protesting and being disruptive or you may think of noted scholars in our history including Angela Davis, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.–just to name a few.
Upon embarking in my last semester at San José State University, the reality of everything was just beginning to settle in. After four years which essentially flew before my eyes, I found myself taking the last classes of my undergraduate career including some major courses for communication studies, a minor course for legal studies and most importantly, a service-learning course which would surprisingly turn into one of the most rewarding and enlightening experiences of my entire undergraduate career.
One of the major requirements for communication studies students, among other social science majors, is that you either have to complete an internship at the University’s COMM center as a tutor or social media intern or you could choose to take a service-learning course. Due to the fact that I already had a job which took away roughly 20 hours from the week, aside from classes and studying, I found the service-learning option to be the best choice. Mostly due to convenience and having the perfect place in my schedule. But, I wasn’t quite sure what type of journey I would be embarking on in making this simple choice.
On the first day of class with SJSU Professor Tabitha Hart, she asked a very basic question which seemed to stump a majority of the students in the class, “what does service learning mean to you?”
Now, prior to enrolling in this course, I knew I would have to work with an organization, but I was not aware of the choices we had, what the requirements were going to be or how the dynamics of the class would persist through the semester. I remember a few students raising their hands and saying something along the lines of “service-learning is community service,” while others felt that service-learning was a combination of gaining an academic background on issues affecting our communities while simultaneously implementing these items proactively into our local community. Let’s just say, the second definition serves as a thorough description of my experiences throughout the semester.
The next question brings me back to the beginning. After ending class the first day, the Professor reminded us of a introductory questionnaire we had to fill out. She told us that the questions should not take long but to beware that she does want a substantive response. After heading home from class, I opened the questionnaire and began answering all 25 questions. Number 5 was the most significant to me because of the fact that it was asking me to reflect on past and present actions and decide if I truly consider myself an activist or not.
Now, if there’s anything anyone knows about me it’s that I have a deep embedded fiery passion for social justice issues concerning women’s rights, immigration, racism, sexism and so many more.
Yet, before answering this question, I reflected on the actions I had taken which would ideally put me in the spotlight for being considered a true activist. There weren’t any. I could have a heated intellectual debate about the state of race in the country and my perspectives on immigration reform, but I could not back my knowledge up with crucial and symbolic actions; actions regarding community involvements and facilitating change at the local level in hopes of reaching state and eventually, federal.
At that moment, we had not even decided what community organization we would be committing to for the semester but, I had a feeling that that organization would allow me to step out of my comfort zone and engage with the community. This is something I never had the opportunity of taking part in growing up in my community in Boston, Massachusetts and overtime realized the significant positive impact community involvement can have on the growth of opportunities for the youth.
That is when I decided on CommUniverCity San José. In class, on the day we viewed presentations from all 3 groups to choose from, Elizabeth Figueroa, my soon-to-be Program Coordinator, came in with such energy, enthusiasm and knowledge, it made me realize that this is the type of organization I would love to be a part of, not only to gain experience in the field of event planning but also to gain a different perspective on our communities and the pressures and circumstances being endured. One does not fully understand the, sometimes, difficult circumstances families have to face on a daily basis until you reach out your hand and find someone grabbing it for help.
Throughout my time with CommUniverCity, I was able to engage in community activities like flyering for Dumpster Day around the neighborhood door-to-door, getting to know members of the community and how symbolic events like these benefit one major issue in San José, illegal dumping. I helped with planning the first annual Spartan Keyes Easter Egg Hunt which truly allowed me to gain valuable insights on the logistics of planning a community event and how the hard work truly pays off once you start seeing the enthusiasm from the children as well as newly sparked interest from residents seeking to receive more information on community events like these.
In the wake of tragedy in March when flooding devastated various communities within San José, I was able to volunteer my services as a bilingual volunteer helping direct Spanish speakers affected by this tragedy to the right direction to receive necessary aid to get back on their feet and most importantly, get their homes back. I was even able to help with CommUniverity’s Engineering in Action, a project incorporating SJSU engineering students and elementary students from around Downtown San José allowing them an opportunity to learn and engage with STEM concepts. STEM is a field which is dramatically expanding, especially with STEM majors significantly increasing over time at SJSU, yet many do not realize there is a major issue with regards to diversity of gender and race within the profession. This program not only helped SJSU students engage with the community and their prospective profession but it allowed for increased knowledge and curiosity from students in these concepts in attempt to diversify.
CommUniverCity not only allowed me to acquire more communication and event planning skills but it allowed me to take a step back as a student and take a look at the community of San José as a member. In this case, an active member. I was able to note the community and how it’s drastically affected by social issues like environmental racism, gentrification, homelessness and deportations. Generating bonds with fellow communication studies majors, discussing some of the community issues at hand and brainstorming ideas on how to combat or aid these issues truly fortified my experience with CommUniverCity.
CommUniverCity is an organization which is the epitome of activism. It embodies the fuel that advances activism around the world through community advocacy, civil engagement and local change.
So when the end of the semester arrived and we were saying our goodbyes, we all filled out the same questionnaire again. But this time around, when I reached question 5, I already knew my answer and it symbolized a drastic and positive change. Yes, I do consider myself an activist.