The Hidden Benefits of Community Engagement

I remember the excitement I felt from learning about the many campus talks and lectures about social justice topics throughout my first year of college about as well as I remember the heaviness I felt in listening to those talks. From climate change and Black Lives Matter to the atrocities of the bracero program and the pervasiveness of white supremacist ideals in our lives, all are topics of urgency and grave importance. Through these events and spaces, I learned about the history of marginality that people of color navigate, I learned to put words to our struggle, the importance of calling it by a name, and of deconstructing the systems of oppression that permeate our lives: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, patriarchy, white supremacy, etc. I remember times when I would walk out of a very heavy talk, only to have to rush over to work on my math homework or to meet with the math tutor. I remember making time for listening and learning, but feeling like I had little to no time for action. It was an overwhelming sense of helplessness and frustration, having all this information available about how cruel and unjust the world can be while not having an outlet to act upon the injustice. At the same time, I also felt detached from the real world because of the insulated community of my college campus. Helplessness and frustration was followed by anxiety, guilt, and a toll on my mental health.

For the past couple months, I have been involved in helping put together a Know Your Rights Forum in response to the ongoing targeting of our undocumented community. A quick glace through my Facebook feed nowadays unmistakably serves as a reminder of the bleak situation undocumented folks are facing, especially under the current administration. With all the mental space that planning for this event continues to take on, sometimes I just have to confront and wallow in the gravity of the situation. Folks continue to be criminalized and targeted, their entire livelihoods turned political football game, and at times it grows heavy to think about the constant state of defense that undocumented folks must be in to protect their right to stay in this country. Recent raids across the nation have sparked a wave of fear in the undocumented community and it is palpable.

Despite all this, I can still say that this has been one of the best semesters in college for my mental health. I’ve received a lot of love and support from close friends who know a bit about my involvement, and especially from those who are also involved in planning the event. Working with our partners in the community and meeting with multiple groups has allowed me to get a glimpse of all the amazing work that people are doing and have continued to do, even when undocumented folks were being targeted in a more silenced way. It has given me a lot of optimism to know that I am not alone in this battle, and it has been empowering to take action in direct response to the ongoing violence inflicted on my community. I cannot imagine the state of mind I would be in now, had I not become involved in some sort of direct action and had I only been focusing on school work while the world as we know it is up in flames. On a personal level, it’s relieving to channel my anger and frustration (to put it lightly) into direct action and on a communal level, it is incredibly refreshing to be in community with a good group of folks from all walks of life who are fighting for the same cause.