How a Student Becomes an Activist

The Freedom Summer in 1964 brought more than 1,000 college students from around the country to the Mississippi Delta for a campaign that involved community organizing through Freedom Schools and tried to get Black Mississippians registered to vote. In September, Arcadia observed the 50th anniversary of that summer with a panel discussion called “Commemorating Freedom Summer 1964: Where Are We Now?” and I’m so glad that it did.

The event gave me the opportunity to witness history through the eyes of local activists and also reinforced the importance of political involvement. A key moment for me came from the story of Phyllis B. Taylor ’63. During her time at Beaver College, she began her work in activism as a Freedom Rider. After traveling to Eastern Shore, Md., to fight against racism, segregationists were so disturbed by Taylor’s involvement that a letter was written to Beaver asking that she and another student be expelled. She wasn’t expelled and the possibility of that and other negative consequences didn’t deter her from a lifelong commitment to communities still in need of justice. People were being killed over this, losing their lives because they refused to accept the world as it was. It was amazing to see how a college kid was able to put serious efforts into causes that often times seem too big to fight and continue that work throughout their life.

Phyllis B. Taylor ’63

Phyllis B. Taylor ’63

She didn’t come to Arcadia just to tell her story. Taylor came to encourage the students in the audience to commit themselves, too, and I felt that radiate off the stage and into the audience. An image that sticks with me is of her sitting on the panel in her bright red suit jacket, clasping her hands tightly, saying, “You can do this.” The look in her eyes told me that she meant it sincerely, and because of her personal experiences and the experiences of the other panelists, I could believe in what she was saying.

I’ve recalled that moment every time I’ve gotten discouraged by what I hear in the news. It’s easy to feel angry but overpowered by stories of discrimination and violence toward marginalized groups. When you want freedom for every racial group, for all women, for everyone in the LGBTQIA community, for the poor, for children, for gender nonconformists, etc., how can you not feel overwhelmed? I think we all need someone who understands to tell us that it’s possible for us make a difference, even if we’re just some college kids.

My interest in activism and social justice comes as no surprise. I’m a sociology major for a reason! But figuring out how to contribute to the changes I want to see can be tricky. At Arcadia, I’m learning that there are so many ways to go about it, and that’s liberating.

Photos by Jordan Cameron ’17