“The Work We Do Depends on Us Staying Committed”

Mason Student Activists Highlight the Value of Well-Being and Community

by Elizabeth Schierbeek, BA Integrative Studies '17

“The Work We Do Depends on Us Staying Committed”

On April 8, 2021, the Human Rights and Global Justice Initiative hosted its virtual spring event, “Resistance and Resilience: Student Activism and Well-Being.” The event, held in partnership with the School of Integrative Studies, the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Social Action and Integrated Learning, Leadership Education and Development, and the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being, saw Mason students lead a conversation exploring the intricate connections between activism and well-being. Carrie Hutnick, Deion M. Maith, Elijah Nichols, and Rafaela Gonzalez-Lucioni provided insight into their experiences as student activists, their struggles and strategies for maintaining well-being, and the power of community. With their activism spanning a variety of causes, in the United States and beyond, the event touched on the students’ involvement in the areas of racial justice, LGBTQIA+ rights, gun control, child hunger, and policing and prison reform.

The conversation was moderated by Hutnick, a Mason PhD student in sociology and the associate director of community-based learning at Drexel University. Her activism is centered around the issues of prison reform and restorative justice, and utilizes education and community-building as fundamental tools for change. Maith is an interdisciplinary studies master’s student studying social justice and human rights and serves as the advisor of Mason’s NAACP chapter and the president of Collegiate Black Men. His community engagement and organizing have been instrumental in furthering the Black Lives Matter movement at Mason. Nichols, a third-year Mason undergraduate student studying government and international politics, is the former policy and advocacy director for Not My Generation, a national gun violence prevention non-profit. An activist since the age of eight, he serves as the president of Pride Alliance, Mason's largest and oldest LGBTQIA+ community. Gonzalez-Lucioni is a sophomore double majoring in global affairs and conflict analysis and resolution. At the age of 18, she founded a nonprofit to raise money to combat food insecurity in Brazil, through which she continues to advocate for an end to child hunger.

Carrie Hutnick
Moderator Carrie Hutnick (photo provided)

Rafaela Gonzalez-Lucioni
Rafaela Gonzalez-Lucioni (photo provided)

Deion Maith
Deion Maith (photo provided)

Elijah Nichols
Elijah Nichols (photo provided)

This is an especially critical discussion at this moment in time. As one audience member commented after the event, “it was inspirational, moving, thoughtful and thought-provoking, the best webinar by far that I had a chance to attend this whole past year.”

For student activists, it can be especially challenging to maintain well-being. They must manage a wide variety of activities in their personal and professional lives, many of which have been even more demanding during the COVID-19 pandemic. Juggling their dual roles as students and changemakers has led to activist burnout. To combat this, Nichols highlighted the importance of “active self-care practices,” emphasizing how “to-do lists, being organized, making sure there is a schedule, and having structure… acknowledging space for me as a person” have made life easier. It’s imperative for student activists to manage and value their time. “You have to take care of yourself first. You have to learn how to say no,” said Maith. They urged fellow student activists to remain hopeful. “We don’t have to wait for the world we’re working for,” commented Hutnick. “We burn out when we think we aren’t getting anywhere.”    

The four panelists also emphasized the key role of community. As Maith remarked, “A one-man show will not run a movement. Don’t do it by yourself.” Nichols echoed, “democratizing movements and relying on folks in the community.” He further elaborated, “It’s important to be active in the community…you have to care about the community deeply beyond the movement…When you have commitment to a community, you can work together to take care of one another – for liberation, to take on the system.” Going forward, other Mason students involved in activism should work to “break down individualism” and “build collective liberation for the community,” said Nichols. “Get a cup of coffee with others and build community. Building a better future requires localized work.”

For those students who may be new to activism and wondering where to begin, Gonzalez-Lucioni underscored, “The first step is always education. Question every system and power structure.” Maith affirmed this, saying, “Be a lifelong learner.” There are numerous ways students can get involved in social justice and human rights activism. "You don’t have to be in the streets," said Maith. "Find your own way to participate.”

So get out into the Mason community, connect with your fellow student activists, maintain your well-being together, and make change happen.