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A Student Advocate’s Guide to Sustaining a Movement Through Self-Care

This blog is written by:

Lauren Kater: Lauren Kater (she/her) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Justice Studies program at Arizona State University and a member of the 2023-2024 SLAAC cohort. Her research is on college students’ civic engagement, using a critical lens and centering diverse identities to support a more inclusive democracy.

Let’s be honest. Food justice work is hard and finding a healthy balance is a challenge for most of us. So, I want to share some insights with you to sustain the meaningful work you’re doing day-to-day. We are all constantly balancing boundaries, responsibilities, pressures, and often putting our own well-being off to the side. This is not sustainable, healthy, or necessary! Here are tactics we can implement to protect our wellness and continue doing the work:

Your own basic needs are a priority. 
Staying hydrated, eating balanced meals, having a healthy sleep schedule, and maintaining a work-life balance will help you sustain the energy and focus required to work in food justice. This is easier said than done, especially when we are in an environment that emphasizes long hours and sacrifices to just keep up. It’s important to remember we will not be able to help anyone if we ourselves are running on fumes. 

Practice affirmations.
The science behind self-affirmations is strong, and they’ve been proven to improve neural pathways and decrease stress. Here are some examples that you can repeat to yourself daily or in times of stress:

  • “I treat myself and others with dignity and respect.”
  • “I know I am making an impact every day.”
  • “I am a part of the broader anti-hunger movement and have support if I need it.”

Strive to build community.
At the end of the day when the pantry lights are turned off and laptops close, who is around to listen to you, offer support, and build connections? Finding a strong, supportive community is not easy, but the efforts are worth the rewards. Building an intentional community that you can rely on and receive support from (and vice versa!) is necessary in this work. You can try:

  • Looking for connections in different spaces (school, work, volunteering, online, professional organizations, etc.).
  • Keeping notes about important dates (like birthdays, holidays, graduations etc.) for people in your community and make an effort to acknowledge them on those days.
  • Connecting with campus leaders from other schools. You can join Swipe Out Hunger’s campus network to attend our monthly Swipe Sessions webinars, reach out to the Swipe team, and connect with other students and staff in our movement!

Infuse a love ethic into food justice work.
An important part of this work is showing care and compassion for others in order to maintain the progress we have made. Author bell hooks called this a love ethic. For example, you can practice centering the ‘wholeness’ of the student and take into consideration their intersecting identities. Can you remember the names of students you see frequently and welcome them back the next time you see them? Can you introduce food options that cater to students’ dietary needs? While it’s true that you may interact with many students in a day and that specialty foods are sometimes more challenging to keep stocked, the extra effort is worth it for the impact you can have on your students. 

Reframe mindsets and look for partnership.
You have likely faced roadblocks on the journey to meeting students’ needs that are hard to work through and even harder to deal with the mental reality that they exist in the first place. Navigating oppositional mindsets is challenging, but can ultimately lead to more empathy, understanding, and collaboration. A good practice is to re-frame the way you look at “roadblocks” and instead consider how they could be opportunities. What information and perspectives can be shared to create a more complete understanding from all sides? What evidence or data are you using to support your arguments? Can student voices be centered and other stakeholders invited to the table as potential partners? For example, Swipe Out Hunger has resources for developing a campus pantry and can support the efforts of students and staff working through roadblocks.

Remember that you are not alone in this work. Keep going — our movement is stronger with you!

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