Student organizations should empower members to embrace their identity

For college students on a city campus, it can be difficult to express individual identity in a sea of thousands of people. For me, expressing self-love has never been a part of my identity. I’ve struggled with body image issues for most of my life, so finding ways to look for beauty in my own image is a challenge. But after participating in the Feminist Student Union’s “Love Your Body Week” photo campaign last week, I felt relieved to express my concerns with my body in a more public setting, instead of simply internalizing those feelings. More student groups that work to empower different students should follow in FSU’s lead, by running their own version of an interactive social media campaign.

All throughout this past week, FSU ran a photo campaign where student photographers from the group took professional pictures of students that signed up and then posted the images on the FSU Facebook page, along with a caption or story about body positivity generated by the student. My photoshoot was at The Kennedy Center and I wrote a caption about my own personal struggle with insecurity. FSU also held several meaningful events that centered around self care and body positivity. I participated in two of the weekly events – a mug decorating party to destress from the week and talk about self care while writing body positive messages on the cups, and an honest discussion about body image over tea in the business school. Attending these events and participating in the campaign compelled me to think about how I practice and understand self-love and self-care in my own life. The photo campaign pushed me to combat my insecurities head on and the events compelled me to think about more positive ways I can care for myself, like getting help when I need it and surrounding myself with positive support systems.

Although body image is a central part of identity, it is not the only important one.

It’s important to understand the reach of a campaign like FSU’s “Love Your Body Week.” On a basic level, just having someone take more professional style pictures can make you feel beautiful and empowered. But beyond that surface-level reach, using the opportunity to tell your personal story, share your insecurities with others and understand everyone else’s insecurities is the true reach of the photo campaign and the week’s events.

Although body image is a central part of identity, it is not the only important one. Other organizations that unite students through forms of identity — such as the Arab Student Association, Intersectional Feminists of Color Collaborative, the Black Student Union and Chabad — should especially use their platforms on social media to empower their members.

Similar campaigns that other organizations could carry out wouldn’t necessarily focus on body positivity, but rather on the empowerment of individual communities associated with each organization. For example, the Arab Student Association can run a campaign on social media and host forums or panels that allow members to speak openly about what being Arab means to them. Or GW Chabad could host open discussions or photo campaigns centered around their members’ experiences with jewish identity and expression.

As college students, it’s important for us to be able to express our personal identity.

If carried out, these campaigns would target average students and give them a platform to discuss their own personal experiences. Many of these organizations already conduct programs and events to discuss race and identity. For example, last year the Black Student Union specified that they will prioritize mental health in the their community. But these organizations should additionally include a student discussion of these issues, as well as a social media component, to ensure that the conversations surrounding these issues are gaining awareness on a wider scale.

Apart from the outward aspect of people enjoying their photos posted on social media, the beauty and bravery of FSU’s campaign lies in the fact that they are exposing others to their most intimate thoughts. After opening up and sharing personal experiences, it can be extremely comforting and even therapeutic to get support from  peers. This concept can be incorporated by many other organizations on campus. As college students, it’s important for us to be able to express our personal identity. Using that identity as a means of empowerment is a powerful choice for an organization to make.

Rachel Armany, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.

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