Living on a college campus presents many challenges but also gives you several opportunities to stand up for your beliefs. Being an ally for anyone often means operating in spaces where marginalized voices need your help to be heard or for a movement to be taken seriously. It’s vital to amplify others but not overshadow them. Here are some easy ways you can start being the best ally possible during your life on campus and beyond.
1. Learn the history
Marginalized groups typically have rich histories. Take time to learn about them by seeking resources that catalog everything without leaving out even the most minor details. You'll want to know how equality has prevailed over the years and how recent the biggest movements are. Even though the fight for equality hasn't ended, knowing the history can help you gain perspective and become a better ally and advocate. The voices of those in privileged positions carry weight in spaces where people don't take marginalized voices seriously. So it's always important to know what you're talking about!
2. Understand your privilege
A crucial part of understanding marginalized groups' struggles is to evaluate your own privilege. Have you ever been discriminated against because of the color of your skin? Did you ever feel the anxiety of coming out to your parents? Unless you've experienced discrimination based on something you can't change, you can never fully understand—but you can recognize that you’ve received opportunities others didn't. You'll then know why advocating for those whose voices are suppressed is so important.
3. Listen to others
One simple way to be an excellent ally is to listen. This means being open to correction and understanding that you may need to hear some upsetting stories to understand how they have shaped who someone has become. It also provides clarification and helps you understand your conversation partner in the wider context of societal issues and even parts of yourself. Always practice active listening to understand how you can make an effective difference.
4. Start the conversation
People have enough to deal with at school without worrying about educating others all the time. Many marginalized individuals are tired of bearing the burden of teaching about diversity as it affects their stress and focus on other things like schoolwork. So don’t wait for your friends to bring up important topics and current events—start a conversation after you have educated yourself on the topic. At the same time, you should be careful not to speak on behalf of marginalized voices when discussing movements and why equality is important.
5. Learn to be okay with feeling uncomfortable
You're going to find yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable as you become a better ally. Some discussions may feel too much to handle sometimes, but you need to learn to deal with it. Being uncomfortable proves something needs to change, and you should be receptive to that feedback. Learning about how to be socially aware and better terms to use are both essential to your growth.
6. Get involved
College campuses offer countless ways to get involved in activism. You might join an organization that uplifts marginalized voices or volunteer for good causes to demonstrate your passion. You can also participate in diversity and inclusion trainings whenever possible or relevant. That way, you'll always work to beat your biases and become a better human being.
7. Follow diverse accounts online
With all the time we spend online, it’s important to be intentional with the curated news we’re seeing and what we feed our minds with. Comb through your social media following lists and unfollow the accounts that don't serve you or your personal growth. Similarly, get recommendations for websites championing diversity so you can stay updated on the latest information. Your campus might even have some recommendations for social media accounts, YouTube channels, or podcasts to pay attention to. Varying the voices you listen to and the news you consume can help you understand the world around you better.
8. Keep up with the news
Be sure to keep up with the news not only through social media but through more traditional means as well. Avoiding headlines and difficult discussions is insulating while understanding the struggles of a marginalized group can help you know where you're needed and what you can do. Knowing what's going on in the world can also help you have better conversations and work toward stopping injustice.
9. Don't make it a performance
Many people jump on allyship trends to "prove" they're allies, and it typically comes off as performative without doing much to contribute to a cause. One example is the Blackout Tuesday that happened on Instagram in 2020. The black squares were posted by many trying to be allies in solidarity, but they took up space in crucial hashtags—like #BLM—that contained helpful information, making it more difficult to access. Allies should always stop and consider their actions carefully so something doesn't appear performative. Linking to resources in your story or bio might be more helpful than posting a black square and cluttering hashtags.
10. Become a better bystander
Don’t be afraid to speak up for others! You don't need to step into something in the moment if it's unsafe, but you can take steps to educate or correct someone after the fact. Intervening as a bystander can lessen the harm done to someone through hurtful words or a tricky situation. For example, if someone says something distasteful in class, confront them afterward and tell them how their comment could hurt people. Another good option is to talk to the victim who was affected. Let them know you don't feel the same way and are there to support them.
Allyship isn't passive. You must be in the thick of things, advocating for people when they can't or don't feel safe to stand up for themselves. You'll have plenty of chances on your college campus to increase your awareness. Just remember to be active in the community and you'll have a great semester while showing your support for the fight for equality.
Find more advice on being an ally and supporting diverse students in our College Diversity section.