If/When/How is dedicated to supporting and centering people of color — both within our organization and beyond — because we know that the realization of reproductive justice depends on how people of color are centered in the movement. As a part of our efforts, If/When/How held a working group retreat in spring 2017 for students to come together and discuss the work we all must do to achieve racial justice. The time to apply for next year’s Student of Color & White Co-Conspirator Working Groups is here, so we invite you to read reflections from this year’s participants on what they learned and the actions they are committed to taking.
By Kimya Forouzan, chapter leader at Temple University Beasley School of Law
I entered the Working Group Retreat with a weight on my shoulders. Initially, this weight seemed to me to be solely from the fact that I had pending assignments for school; I classified it as routine stress. However, I am and always have been, someone who works through trauma and negative feelings by overworking. And I am not alone. Many individuals process emotions by pushing themselves too hard—because as long as you are exhausted and overworked, you do not actually have to deal with any pain you are feeling. Unlike some other coping mechanisms that are many times wrongly shamed, overworking is often seen as a positive in a society that glorifies constant productivity.
Being someone who overworks to cope with stress is a truth about myself that I have recently come to realize and have begun to unlearn. Often, as students of color, we are encouraged to swallow our needs and focus solely on achieving what we can, despite the pain we may be experiencing. First-generation Americans, like myself, are often ingrained with the sense that we have to prove that our parents’ sacrifices were worth it through our achievements.
Although I was incredibly excited and filled with gratitude for the opportunity to join the Working Group Retreat, I could not help but let my mind wander to worrying about when I would complete my assignments that were due that Sunday. It wasn’t until the weekend’s work began that this weight slowly lifted.
The Working Group Retreat consisted of two groups—students of color and white co-conspirators. This was unlike anything I had ever been a part of in the past. Although I have been a member of various affinity, cultural, and multi-cultural organizations through my time in high school and higher education, much of those events consisted of primarily students of color by default. I had never had the opportunity to reflect in my own, deliberate space with other students of color while white co-conspirators did the same in their own space.
While participating in the Working Group, our facilitators Lina and Priya consistently took time to ask us our needs and desires from the experience. While many of the topics we discussed were difficult to process, I felt as though the process was cathartic. I felt the weight slowly being lifted off of my shoulders and recognized that the weight was not just from the average stress of schoolwork.
It was not until this experience, during which I was asked deliberately and consistently what my needs were, that I realized that the reason I often did not have an answer was not a lack of preference. For too long, I have pushed myself to stop acknowledging my needs. I have chosen to overwork myself, instead of taking a minute to reflect on how a micro-aggression influenced my day. I have put on a brave face to advocate for my community, instead of focusing on the pain that is inflicted on us through volatile rhetoric, bans, and hate crimes. This isn’t always easy to do, and I recognize that I don’t always do it. It’s easy to overwork yourself both because that is what is expected of certain people and because it’s sometimes easier to push yourself to work instead of focusing on the issue you are grappling with. However, I have begun to reflect on the issues I face, create methods of responding directly, and prioritize self-care in the process.
And while the consistent tenacity and dedication of people of color will always be so vital, the SCPOC Working Group Retreat has served as a catalyst for my recognizing the importance of stating my own needs and for self-love. This allows me to be a better advocate, a happier person, and to work towards longer-lasting resilience.
Although I still value my work and remain focused on my career, I have come to understand that leading an unhealthy life in which I do not value my needs will stifle the successes I have in the future.
One way I put what I had learned at the Working Group Retreat into action: working with other student leaders to petition for a Middle Eastern & North African Law Student Association! This was a way for me and others to create space for ourselves to focus on the issues affecting our community, as well as create a stronger community.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of If/When/How.