Grad Students Talk: Development and Process of a Student-Led Social Justice Initiative

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Abstract

College student activism has long been a staple of campus life, often driven by the sociopolitical issues of the time. In response to recent and continuous violent deaths of members of the Black community, rising instances of overt racism, and perceived silence among our institutes and professional groups, a multiinstitutional and diverse collective of psychology graduate student leaders, Grad Students Talk (GST) came together to engage psychology graduate students nationally in discussions related to these events. GST facilitated a series of teleconference calls, and one large in-person conference discussion, for psychology graduate students to discuss and process their reactions to acts of racial injustice. Additionally, GST headed “First, Do No Harm,” an advocacy campaign against psychologists’ involvement in torture, which received mention in national media. The purpose of the current paper is to describe the successes of our student collective, to understand the challenges GST faced in the context of activism within higher education, and to provide recommendations to professionals in higher education to support student activism initiatives. Data from a collaborative autoethnographic qualitative approach highlighted a number of important themes that emerged for researcher-participants, including lack of perceived safety, observed silence from institutions and professional groups, and the important roles of universality and instillation of hope. We conclude the present discourse with a synthesis of the systemic challenges student activists face, and recommendations for change.

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