My first semester with the Brandeis Hoot newspaper opened my eyes in many ways, but the most important thing it taught me was that information is useless unless you can communicate it well. Last year, my first year at Brandeis, I studied a variety of class subjects. After experimenting with these different interests, I learned many lessons that have helped me better understand National Consumers League and my role in their social justice efforts. Specifically, the networking and communication skills I learned at Brandeis, as well as the political awareness I developed, allow me to make an impact with the League.
The lessons I learned about networking came from my observations of the inner workings at the Hoot. Newspapers like the Hoot need help from sources to stay relevant. Whether we learn information from fellow students or administrative leaders at Brandeis, our network helps us inform people in the community who would otherwise have trouble interpreting the latest campus events.
In similar ways, contacts within the government, businesses, and nonprofits help the League accomplish social justice goals. Social justice cannot be a individual effort. Our partnerships enable us to have a wider reach. Among other assignments, I have worked on connecting with NCL contacts like Further with Food, an organization fighting food waste. I also observed the depth of the League’s connections while researching food labels for my policy memo and watching our executive director talk with partners.
If advocates want to successfully change people’s lives, they must spread the word. Catching the attention of community leaders who can mobilize people or execute tough plans is also essential to succeeding in a social justice mission. Advocacy involves more than just telling people your ideas – it requires getting them to actually listen.
Another thing some people fail to realize is that they will not change anybody else’s mind without finding ways to connect with them. My university writing seminar, which seemed tedious at the time, actually equipped me with the strategies to approach an argument and analyze different situations. Words can have more power than you think if you use them properly. This tenet of social justice helps me better understand my role in the world and my ability to help people in need.
The biggest change I approached at Brandeis was the social difference. At my small magnet school in D.C., I developed dozens of close friendships, while I only have a few Brandeisian friends. Starting over socially forced me to improve my communication skills and understand how I interacted with people before I knew we were going to be friends. I had to communicate clearly and respectfully, while also initiating conversations instead of waiting for them to happen to me.
Brandeis taught me the importance of reaching out. For example, if I want more work at the League, I cannot just wait for my colleagues to offer something. They are busy changing the world!
Politics are ingrained in American society, but more so at liberal arts colleges because they are full of ambitious and outspoken young people. One League-backed initiative in my native D.C. surprised me because I did not read much into the issue and heard only the other side’s points. However, I later learned that the opposition was pushed by an industry without its own employees’ best interests in mind. This event confirmed what I had learned at Brandeis about the value of knowledge and awareness.
Overall, these lessons help me put my social justice work into perspective because I am able to see how far I can make my ideas go, but also how much help I will need to turn them into realities.