Lobbyist. Environmentalist. Advocate.
Activism comes in many forms — people all around the world in different communities find a cause they are passionate about and act to preserve, advance or champion that cause.
Advocates and activists populate our television screens and anchor our history books, but beyond the widespread coverage, the question still arises: why act?
Why should we become advocates for a cause?
In our campus community, you can see activism in our various community service organizations, advocacy clubs and groups and even in the impassioned work of various student leaders.
One of the most prominent political voices in the campus community, the St. Mark’s Dallas Area Diverse Youth Organization (DADYO) chapter holds an open social discussion forum focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. DADYO President Sahitya Senapathy sees necessity in the organization’s activist work.
“There’s a lot of political conflict going on right now,” Senapathy said. “[In DADYO,] people from different perspectives are able to express their views effectively, helping to eliminate stereotypes and greater understand our differences.”
For Senapathy, in particular, his work in DADYO has enlightened him on the issues of discrimination and inequity in mainstream industries -- he believes the open discussions have the power to foster realizations that lead to possible action and reform.
“One meeting that struck me as significant was the meeting at St. Mark’s in which we talked about diversity in the work industry,” Senapathy said. “It impacted me because I was able to really understand how it worked and how it impacted the world. I was able to identify the problem and go about discerning how to fix it.”
Senapathy encourages others to become activists for a cause of their own choosing, stressing the importance of working in a community of others focused on the same sustainable goal. In this, he believes, lies the impact of activism.
“Activism is important to express your voice and get your opinions out there,” Senapathy said. “If you don’t speak out, your voice will be drowned out and not heard. Being an activist is not something you can just do by yourself.”
Student leadership and activism may have benefits in other seemingly unrelated spheres, such as the college application process. Associate Director of College Counseling recognizes the benefit of putting a high position on your resume, but emphasizes the value in genuine engagement.
“Colleges view leadership through impact and initiative,” Gendason said. “They view leaders as those who make a contribution, get in the trenches, and really work at making something happen. If you have a title or a position, great. But what did you do with it?”
Whether you consider yourself an activist for a social justice cause or just a member of an active community, Director of College Counseling Veronica Pulido believes the most important facet of leadership is the ability to exhibit a unique voice.
“Colleges will see that the student can hold his own and that they have opinions,” Pulido said. “Colleges look for students who are separating themselves from their peers. They will be the voices on campus.”
On the topic of the benefits of the “activist” label, Gendason has his reservations -- while intensive advocacy looks appealing on a resume, he believes it all comes back to the fundamental qualities of community leadership.
“In terms of activism and getting engaged with a social issue, I do not think that is a checklist item,” Gendason said. “If a student has really connected with an issue and believes in their mission, the question is what did you do with that group or initiative? The label of ‘activist’ is not something colleges are currently emphasizing.”
However, Gendason believes the school community provides students with ample opportunities and outlets to find their own personal causes and passions that in turn foster community activism.
“There is a lot of autonomy to create your own initiatives here,” Gendason said. “We give students lots of opportunities to display initiative and make themselves involved with a certain cause or interest. It is important that students dig deep into two or three causes. The impact is so much deeper.”
Headmaster David Dini sees the school’s role as a holistic expansion of skills that will build the framework needed to help students make change.
“You get all the skill development on the academic front, but hopefully lots of different exposure to the development of your identity to complement that,” Dini said. “So when you advance to the next stages of your life, you should have the tools in your toolkit to be effective and make a positive difference. On a small scale, from a one-on-one setting, to a large scale — you can’t predict that.”
But despite the range of fields Dini has seen alumni impact, he ultimately believes it’s the school’s responsibility to prepare students for the varied impact.
“Could it be business, civic life, medicine, research, education — there’s just so many different avenues that we’ve seen from experience that you guys will go out and touch...,” Dini said. “Our hope and belief is that by helping you guys prepare for those responsibilities, we’re going to arm you with the resources you’re going to need to navigate some issues and challenges that are identified.”
Ultimately, Dini believes the school should embody aspects of the future — preparing students to better the world and create positive change.
“I feel that part of the responsibility here is what the [Path to Manhood] statute stands for in my mind,” Dini said. “It’s carrying the future on your shoulders. I think we see that as a critical charge here at St. Mark’s to help you guys build the skills, abilities, habits and the perspective that will allow you to go out and do these positive things that will make the world a better place.”