Posted April 21, 2016 by Anthony Otero 

What is Your Contribution?

Bree NewsomeBreathe in. Breathe out.

The keynote speech by Bree Newsome was absolutely life-giving. When I heard that she was going to be one of the keynote speakers at the annual conference, my excitement to attend elevated to the next level. All I can say to those who missed it–she did not disappoint.

The last few conferences have suggested to me that this association has been gradually gearing our conversation towards activism and social justice, which leads to the biggest question of that afternoon: “What is your contribution?”

It almost feels as if the overwhelming theme, coming from the various campuses we represent, is that young people are becoming more politically and communally active. The Black Lives Matter protests of a year ago took many administrators by surprise due to the emotional investment made by those for and against. During that time, Newsome made a statement by climbing a flagpole at the steps of the South Carolina State House and removing the Confederate flag, thus forcing a conversation on this controversial subject. In that moment, she knew her answer to the question she posed to the conference audience in New Orleans.

The answer to the question “what is your contribution” is not as easy as one may think. In some ways, this question of contribution is continually asked of us. We are asked this question as professionals, members, leaders, and volunteers. What are we willing to contribute to make our campuses and this association more socially inclusive? We can donate our money, knowledge, and time, but are we really creating a sustainable plan for real change?

These are the questions that we should ask ourselves as we head toward the end of the year. After we usher out seniors, we will then get ready for first-year students who are already dealing with questions that we will find difficult to answer. The answers we seek are not easy to find, but Newsome proposed a few ideas on how we can support student activism:

  • Everyone is a leader, so we have the ability to be agents of change. 
  • We need to practice self-care. You can’t create change if you can’t take care of yourself.
  • Choose between being conscious and unconscious. When you change your view, you begin to see things that were always there.
  • Recognize that you cannot teach someone who is not willing to learn.
  • Create a healing space that can affirm and uplift.
  • Show up and be there when a student asks or expects you to be.

Beyond this, I would like to challenge everyone to continue the conversation that was started at the conference by Newsome and the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. When you think about everything we learned, I want you to consider her question and if you are willing to be that agent of change.

Just remember to breathe in and breathe out. Let’s be that change we talk about.

To capture the breadth of Newsome’s speech, I shall let our colleagues help out:


Anthony Otero

Anthony Otero is the Associate Director at Barnard College.

Anthony is responsible for event management, information desk management, and space reservations at Barnard College. Now at 14 years of experience, his passion in student affairs has always been student development and relationship building.

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