Reflection and Tools in Doing Social Justice Work and Navigating My First Professional Experience

Camilla Brewer

January 15, 2018

When thinking about how to “do” social justice work, I constantly think about how we must incorporate reflection into our approaches in order to create effective and meaningful change. Living in North Carolina as a queer Black woman and working within LGBTQIA services, I have found that knowing myself and building my network of supportive, family-like professionals has allowed me to deepen and lean into my work. Being authentic in my identities, reflecting on my past experiences, and being thankful for the influential people in my life has helped me successfully navigate my first professional experience while holding multiple marginalized identities.

Recently, I have been filled with gratitude for those that have poured into me. These individuals listed below have helped me develop and grow personally and professionally to be the best I can be. They challenge me to think more critically about the work that I do and for whom. Without them, I can say I would not be in this field. So, this is an homage to them and what they have taught me (whether they know it or not); I am eternally thankful for their gifts of fortitude, intellect, shine, support, and love.

Thank you, Dr. Symphony Oxendine, for your gifts of fortitude and intellect.
During my first year of graduate school, I came to you in hopes of finding another graduate assistantship and a summer internship…in March. Needless to say, I was in tears; I believed that higher education was not for me. You sat me down and explained that one bad experience does not define my professional identity or trajectory. I did not know it then, but your advice has carried me through the following two years to always strive to be better. Your mentorship, intellect, and guidance as a woman of color have helped lead me to amazing places and I cannot thank you enough.

Thank you, Mallory LaPlant, for your gift of shining from the inside.
I had never driven through, visited, or considered living in Kentucky. However, I found myself thrilled to begin a NODA internship under your supervision. We had an orientation session and the weather forecast was 98°F with 100% humidity. The team was running around the entire day, sweating profusely. That day, a parent consistently berated you, but you always met them with a smile, a listening ear, and a solution. In that moment, you taught me one of the most useful lessons: when you meet negativity with a calm and positive attitude, a solution can always be found. Shining from the inside out is one of your best qualities and I can only hope to lead with as much positivity and joy as you.

Thank you, Matthew Antonio Bosch and Becca Bishopric Patterson, for your gift of support.
I’ll say it:  doing diversity and inclusion work ain’t easy. It is difficult not only in the South, but across the country with few job opportunities, the current climate, and continuous questions of why our work matters. While you both have taught me myriad things, most important to me is your gift of support. You encourage me to love myself, lean in to the work that I do, and think up in terms of growing and development. There is continual conversation about how to take care of ourselves, acknowledging that this is essential to performing our work effectively. Even when I do not see my work as extraordinary, you point out my accomplishments and recognize that I am making an impact on students in meaningful ways. And finally, you challenge me to think about my next professional position by encouraging me to take advantage of opportunities outside of my role, which has elevated my first experience more than I imagined.

Thank you, Cristina Vega, Sam Beckas, and Brandon Bell, for your gift of unconditional love.
Where would I be without my people? Through the beginning of my professional journey, you have been my sounding board, challengers, and fiercest supporters. Navigating this position would be impossible without your unconditional love. You taught me to listen before speaking, to create opportunities, and to hype one another up in times of extreme joy and also in times of strife. It is no surprise to me that students are drawn to you; your humility, generosity, and profound devotion to your work and students inspire me. Because of you, I have begun to build my professional network of people, and I cannot be more thrilled to continue to work with you.

To do social justice work effectively, higher education professionals need to infuse self-reflection into their praxis. I leave you with reflection questions to help get you started:

  1. What are you manifesting/cultivating today?
  2. What are you thankful for?
  3. Have you poured into someone else recently?
  4. How are you nurturing your network?

Do you have thoughts on this blog post? Share them with us on Facebook @NPGSKC, on Twitter @npgs_kc, or on Instagram @npgs_kc!

Camilla Brewer is currently the Coordinator for the Gender & LGBTQIA Center and the Danieley Center Neighborhood at Elon University. She is involved in NASPA and NCCPA. She enjoys cats, tea, tacos, and is a Hufflepuff. Camilla can be reached at [email protected]

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