By Will Shelling, Policy and Research Assistant (Work-Learn student), UBC Equity & Inclusion Office
Touching down in New York City after about four hours of sleep and sitting in a seat that’s just slightly too small for you is a certain kind of situation one finds themselves in before going to their first academic conference as a student.
However, you end up being filled with excitement for the new experiences, knowledge, and people you’ll meet so it evens out with the lack of sleep. The National Student Leadership Diversity Convention (NSLDC) was a brilliant opportunity to compare notes with other student leaders across North America on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) that are affecting our campuses. Here’s what stood out for me the most:
Helping others requires taking care of yourself first
One of the things that stood out for me early in the conference is that discussions surrounding EDI are more common than I thought and they’re experienced by students across the continent, leading to the belief that others were struggling in similar situations I previously faced. A topic that we discussed was burnout culture in student activism and how to take care of yourself so that you can continue to look after others. The facilitator for this workshop openly called in folks who were doing too much and leading their physical and mental health to ruin, stating that “you need to look after yourself and manage your time properly, otherwise those folks won’t be able to be helped”. This was wildly impactful for me as someone who openly sidesteps their mental wellbeing in order to assist other people.
Being “good enough” amid “credential fatigue”
Another major topic that we discussed was the concept of credential fatigue for Black, Indigenous and Persons of Colour (BIPOC), and how in predominantly white institutions our identities are continually challenged. As the presenter discussed with us deftly, activist students of colour such as myself, continually fall prey to believing that despite whatever accolades we receive, internships we participate in, or things we decide to do, we’re unable to measure up against individuals who have historically benefitted from inclusion in these spaces, such as white, legacy, or students who have pre-exposure to University settings. For myself as an Activist Scholar of Colour, I’ve often fallen prey to this thinking. I certainly know I’m “good enough”; however, I still persist in reaching for another accolade, or another position to set myself apart when I don’t need to.
Where do we go from here?
Issues like credential fatigue, burnout, and this conception of self-worth require strongly built resilience to combat their insidious effects. We (and myself included), can fool ourselves into thinking that progress is a straight line and every misstep sets us back when really it’s a means for you to learn and grow. Credential fatigue is a unique ailment intimately tied to self-worth and we must begin to look at our persistence in these spaces as unprecedented and confronting years of processes that haven’t changed. We as scholars of colour are disrupting these systems and through supporting each other, we can begin to lessen the fatigue and maladaptive emotions others like us face.
Participating in this conference really highlighted the space that UBC has created through various initiatives and spaces such as the Inclusion Action Plan, Human Rights advising, and the Equity & Inclusion office, to codify a dedication to EDI at both UBC campuses.
Do I think that there are opportunities for universities to continually do better? Of course, I do. We need to push for more tangible changes through data-driven findings at our own institutions so that others can feel inspired to push for unique change, like creating a student diversity office or supporting widespread EDI initiatives on their own campuses.