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  • Madison Lazenby

Balancing Activism and Academics

Coming into this semester, I had one thing in mind: how could I dedicate the amount of time and energy I wanted to to my activism and organizing while upholding my grades and staying focused in school? It seemed impossible to do both. Afterall, there are only 24 hours in a day, and I didn’t plan to sacrifice sleep or health in order to reconcile the two. Yet, as dedicated as I may be to my activism and organizing, simply forgetting about school also wasn’t an option.

My entire life, essentially all of my time, energy, and hard work went into my academics. That’s not something I can change overnight. I’ve been taught that schooling comes above everything and must always be my top priority; although I was encouraged to take on other responsibilities, my upbringing left little room for a prioritizing of other things before my academics. So to be in a position where I may have to sacrifice good grades and academic excellence is unusual and can be anxiety-inducing, no matter how much I may have come to terms with it or how much I prefer organizing over schoolwork. Thus, I had quite the work cut out for me when I decided to shift my focus and priorities and place my organizing above my academics.

Now, as I reflect on the semester, I must say that the decision to shift my priorities was not only successful and fulfilling, but also easier to undergo than I had anticipated. As the semester progressed, it became easier for me to hold off on starting assignments to plan club events or protests. I found it quite natural to be in a position wherein I still cared about my grades, obviously, but I no longer felt the overwhelming need to get all As or constantly perform well. Although there were moments where I gave in to that pressure, I found myself much happier and more content with the new norms and expectations I had created for myself. To choose my own passions and wants above the academic expectations I had grown up on felt powerful and rejuvenating.

Most interestingly, the release of the pressure to get all As also allowed me to actually enjoy my classes a lot more as I focused more on actually learning and understanding content than getting good grades. I discovered new and creative ways to combine my activism and academics. I wrote papers on issues of disability and warfare that integrated my independent learning of social issues with the content I learned in class, related my personal experiences with organizing to readings for class, used organizing and educating techniques I learned in my student activist course in the organizations that I’m part of, and so much more. My Hamilton experience became further enhanced and enriched as I continuously chose my passion and love for activism and organizing above the stress of adhering to societal ideals of a “good” student and what it means to perform academically well.

I still greatly struggle with finding a balance between the two, especially as I consider more the kind of role academia has in fighting against white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, and the patriarchy. Academia is seeped in ideals of those systems and used as a tool to marginalize and oppress students with little access to power or privilege. I often think about the role I have in academia as I dedicate myself to both being a student in the traditional sense and fighting for the liberation of mine and other communities and peoples. It is a difficult thing to do, reconciling obligations one may have to perform well in college and obligations one has to liberation. It is a constant battle between the two and requires constantly making and changing personal decisions about how to spend your day, which tasks to complete first, and whether you can squeeze in another meeting into your already packed day. However it is an unavoidable process for those who are both students and activists, as we must learn where our priorities and concerns lay and what is necessary to stay true to ourselves and our work.

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