Activism at AU: Willow Curry, Feminist Writer

Activism at AU is a series devoted to highlighting activists at American University.

Name: Willow Curry

Major: Intended sociology and history major with a minor in communications. But honestly, that might change at any time!

Year: Super sophomore…I’ll explain later

An issue that’s important to you: Intersectional, critical pedagogy and consciousness-raising

How did you get started in activism: This might be a cop-out answer, but I think I’ve always been an activist! In kindergarten, I yelled at a girl in my class for making some kind of joke about slavery and black people. Harriet Tubman was like a goddess to me back then. By middle school, I started calling myself a feminist and I stopped going to Sunday school at my church because they didn’t let the girls take leadership positions in class.

High school was where it really became a part of my identity. I went to an arts high school, and I saw such a lack of non-white, non-Western representation in both my art and academic classes. In art class I would get marked down when I did Japanese sumi-e style paintings because they didn’t adhere to Western principles of design, while in my English classes we didn’t study a single writer of color, except for a one-day class activity about Alice Walker in tenth grade. So I took every opportunity I could to bring other perspectives to people’s attention. Much of it was subtle, like doing a class presentation about an artist or writer of color, or wearing a West African headwrap and answering whatever questions people had about why I wore it, but it was sometimes very confrontational, like calling people out publicly if they made ignorant remarks. Through trial and error, I learned how to communicate my ideas so that people would listen to and respect me even if I was telling them something they didn’t want to hear.

Why it’s so important to you: Activism rescues me from cynicism. It makes me feel less like a replaceable cog in the machine. But mostly, it brings me closer to people, whether that’s gaining more empathy as I learn about more people’s struggles, or gaining respect and love for people through years of exchanging ideas and growing together.

How do you use social media and online activism to stay involved: I’m sure is true for many people, social media is where I truly found my voice as an activist. When I was mainly spreading my ideas in person, I had to weigh carefully when it was worth potentially causing a conflict. But on Facebook, which is pretty much the only social site I use, I have the ability to be as forceful or as mild as I want, while giving people time to really digest what I say. It’s particularly useful to me now, as I am on a yearlong medical leave from AU. Being able to share my opinion through Facebook and see people’s responses and statuses makes me feel less disconnected from my peers.

On the flip side, Facebook has exposed me to sites that have deepened and broadened my perspective like Everyday Feminism, Southern Poverty Law Center, and For Harriet, just to name a few.

What are some challenges you’ve faced: Fear of being completely wrong, or hurting people. Fear of alienating my friends. Fear of questioning authority. I have to temper my natural tendency to avoid conflict and smooth everything over with a commitment to truth that allows me to find my voice even if my brain is shouting at me to just be quiet. Many times I don’t succeed, but every day I try to be a little braver.

What are some successes: I’ve watched friends, acquaintances, and even my family gradually become more sensitive and aware after perhaps hundreds of conversations and interactions, and that makes me happier than I can possibly describe.

What’s something you wish more people knew about activism: The image of an activist is a firebrand, someone who can’t settle for the status quo and demands change now. But activism is also about the long view. There are those of us who start fires to clear the brush and overgrowth, and there are those of us who plant seeds and pull up the weeds one at a time. Both have their time and place.

Is there something you’ve learned about yourself since becoming an activist: I’ve learned that being the spokesperson is not for me. I tried to run a Model United Nations club in high school on my own, and it made me miserable. I’m a lot better, and happier, when I work in partnership or on a team, behind the scenes, in the crowd.

Where do you hope to see yourself one day: I want to earn a graduate degree in the social sciences, so I can ask all my pesky questions with some level of credibility. I want to advocate for folks and shed light on issues with my writing, and do organizing work at the community level. But my biggest goal is to start a magazine with the goal of expanding into other forms of media. Rather than waiting for mainstream sources to tell marginalized stories in accurate and sensitive ways, I want to be part of a movement that democratizes creative and knowledge-building power.

What would you say to budding activists: You will not change people’s minds unless they trust you. It’s much more important than whether people like you or what you’re telling them. Cultivating trust involves the following three things. People need to know that you’re committed to telling the truth—so before you spread any information, make sure it’s accurate and credible. Never deliberately tailor facts to fit your narrative. People also need to know that you’re not an opportunist. If you’re friends with someone on Facebook and you only comment on the statuses that you disagree with—never offering any form of support or friendliness—they have no reason to listen to you. Finally, you have to care. Kindness, generosity and a willingness to stick up for others and help them out do the persuasive work of an infinite amount of well-crafted arguments.


All photos submitted by Willow Curry