Thursday, July 1, 2010

Your Guide to Organizing on a Catholic Campus

I attend Trinity University a small Catholic college in D.C. I am the leader of a feminist group on my campus called the Women’s Student Action Coalition. Organizing a feminist group on a Catholic campus can get sticky. To help you live to tell the tale, I have created a list of helpful suggestions. My college was founded by a group of Catholic nuns back in 1897, and was visited by the Pope in 1979. Needless to say the Catholic tradition is strong at my college; my experience organizing at Trinity has taught me lessons that may be applicable for organizing at many Catholic colleges- and some secular schools too!

1. Know the Rules!

Some schools are very strict about what your group can or cannot advertise. Be sure when planning an event that you abide by your schools rules. Schedule a meeting with an administrator, (at my school this is the Dean of Students) to discuss what your club can advertise. Find a faculty member or administrator who can act as an advocate for your club. If you can get a tenured professor on your side, they will probably be more willing to go to bat for you.

2. Know Your Audience and Keep Them in Mind

Understanding the dynamics of your school, and knowing how to connect with the student body, is key in organizing on any campus not just catholic campuses. Do some research on how to get through to your student body. Study successful clubs on your campus and what methods are they using to reach out to students and faculty. Check out more radical/liberal groups on campus, how are they organizing?

a. You want to get as many students and faculty as possible to come to any event that you plan, so your public relations really matter. When advertising your events, make sure that you keep in mind that not everyone on your campus is a feminist. Use language that doesn’t frighten people away. Watch the language on your flyers and social media outlets!

b. At your events use language that will not make anyone feel attacked or feel like an outsider. Be cordial, but still make your message clear.
3. Collaborate with other Liberals

Another key aspect in organizing as a liberal group on a conservative setting is to build relationships with other liberal groups. Sometimes “fighting the good fight” gets lonely, but if you have a good ole’ liberal at your side dealing with the same struggles, you wont feel so alone. It’s important to have a support system when you feel like an outsider in your community. These relationships can help you reach out to different students too, maybe they’ll want to join you group after meeting your and hearing about the work your doing.

4. Get in with Administration

Probably the most important aspect of organizing on a Catholic campus is getting close with the administration! If you make a habit of dropping by an administrator’s office (thanking them for their help on room reservations, chatting with them about possible events, etc.) they will notice you. If you take the time to tell them how your group’s events benefit the community they will respect the group more. This means they might give you more wiggle room in the future when you’re planning something a bit more controversial. Invite professors and other administrators to your events, it lets them know that you want everyone involved. And always remember: Thank You cards!!!

5. Incorporate Catholicism into Your Events

An easy way to get your campus to recognize that you are not out for their blood is to incorporate Catholicism into some of your events. I have found that on my campus I got brownie points* from the faculty for doing this. If you come from a school like mine, where the sisters have played an active role on campus, use that to your advantage. Celebrate the work of a sister, and talk about how great it is that women are creating good in the world. Or have an event on the history and future of women’s roles in the Catholic Church.

*Brownie Points = Funding and Approval

6. Understand…

Understand that organizing on a Catholic Campus can be tricky, and that you must get creative when talking about certain issues. One of the biggest divides among feminists and Catholics is the issue of abortion. And I know that it sucks when it feels like you have to beat around the bush or you feel censored to say how you really feel. But there are ways of getting across how we really feel without getting into trouble.

It’s very important to have feminist groups on Catholic college campuses because it gives us chance to almost infiltrate the system and maybe make small changes among people. It’s also important so that we can build healthy disagreements with an institution feminists are often at odds with. This is a great opportunity to be seen as more than just pro-abortion feminists. And this doesn’t mean that you have to compromise your opinion, it just means that you have to package it differently.

Photo Credit: NCinDC on Flickr

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