Written by Maeve McKaig
Lexi Parra has been working as a community organizer on Bard’s campus since her first year in Annandale. Now a senior photography and human rights major, activism and organizing work has become an integral part of Parra’s life, both personally and professionally. Her work has ranged from on-campus discussion and education spaces like the Draft, to institution-wide initiatives like the Bard Sanctuary Fund and Organizing for Undocumented Students Rights (OUSR), to the national office of Million Hoodies for Justice.
Even in my first semester at Bard, I had seen the effects of organizations that Parra is connected with a number of times. I heard about her work, whether through the organization or noticing her name mentioned specifically, and was inspired by the important conversations that were happening between students and the College. So when I asked her about how she got into activism, I had assumed that Parra had been surrounded by activism for most of her life to have such strong convictions. It turns out that coming to Bard could be marked as the beginning of her journey.
“I was really politicized at Bard, specifically,” she said. “I grew up in the Midwest, the only brown girl around, and didn’t really understand what that meant for a long time. You know, you just push through, and you do the things and you kind of don’t question it, and I totally understand that time in everyone’s journeys. But coming to Bard and being in a space of political discussion was when I started to realize that I was very interested in politics and very interested in activism.”
Parra’s work on campus began when she joined the Draft, a human rights publication and political discussion space at the time. At the end of her first year, she was asked to be a co-head of the group and has played a role in the group’s leadership ever since. Last year, Wailly Compres, a senior philosophy major, brought Parra in as a co-head of a new club he was starting: a Bard chapter for Million Hoodies. (Compres’s work and Million Hoodies at Bard is featured in another installment of Activist Spotlight)
“Since then we’ve done a ton of work in relationship building with young black and brown folks on campus who are interested in organizing work, and taking the discussions or the frustrations and being able to be active,” Parra said. “[It’s] been a very informative space, because I’ve also worked in the national office of Milion Hoodies and learned how big national campaign work can be specific to a college campus.”
Becoming involved with Million Hoodies led to some personal growth for Parra.
“I was never in a national space before, and we had met young black and LatinX students from all over the country,” Parra said. “I think through a lot of that I started to find confidence in my voice, which is super important when you’re an activist; to have that trust and be clear about being able to share your story and being able to have that voice in a public space. I think it’s a hard thing for me, especially, to do, but I think Million Hoodies really facilitated a space where I could figure out the causality of what is going on, reexamining my journey and finding out the politics behind it and getting action steps to do something about it.”
In addition to Million Hoodies, Parra helped petition the College to make Bard a sanctuary campus, a movement that eventually grew into Bard Sanctuary Fund and OUSR.
“When Trump was elected, there was a big push for sanctuary campuses and sanctuary cities,” she said. “I helped Liz Boyd and Acacia Handel to draft a petition to make Bard a sanctuary campus, which got about 1700 signatures within three days.” A working group of faculty, admissions staff, and students was created to discuss what a sanctuary campus at Bard would look like.
“That working group turned into the Sanctuary Fund, which is now held by the CCE,” Parra said. “We realized that we needed a club space for students to fundraise and still stay very involved and attached to the fund and still pushing for its advocacy because if not, we didn’t really know or trust if the administration would keep it on the forefront.”
The Sanctuary Fund provides educational materials for the Bard Early Colleges and works to provide scholarship and living support to undocumented students. OUSR is a student-run organization that keeps Bard accountable in supporting its most vulnerable students.
“Now we’re continuing to fundraise for that and work on educational initiatives on campus through OUSR and conversations with Admissions and the Speaker to continue to make sure that the Sanctuary Fund is a priority,” Parra said.
In addition to her organizing work, Parra is in the process of completing a joint major, caring for her friends and family, and planning for life after graduation. As impressive as this, I couldn’t help but ask about maintaining balance. Is it really possible to do work that requires this much passion and dedication while also preserving some sort of personal life and identity? Parra said that her relationship with activism and organizing work can be fraught, but she has learned how to care for herself so that she can advocate for others. She said that her work often overlaps with her personal life due to the connections she has made with other activists on campus.
“I think my work, for better or for worse, is very tied to my personal self on campus,” she said. “That’s a very tricky line to have in terms of it consuming your life [and] only being an ‘activist’ versus also a person; so I think I’ve learned to find the balance because most of my good friends, who I consider my family, are involved in the work I do. I’ve learned to really lean on them and foster those relationships for my personal self, and it also helps me continue to have energy in activist spaces.”
In order to be able to do the work, Parra said that being honest with yourself and others is crucial.
“I think it’s really important for people who are in social justice work […] to be very honest about what you can and can’t handle; and also trusting the people you work with, having personal relationships with people that you also are in organizing spaces with,” she said. “For me, that’s really important in how I keep my energy up and I wouldn’t do such big amounts of work if I didn’t have support teams within those spaces.”
Parra said that facilitating those spaces with intention is very important to her. She said that when facilitating a space, you have to be conscious of who that space is for and how active you are in welcoming people to that space.
“I think that I am a figure that people can go to, I hope that I am, in terms of being approachable and being involved in these clubs,” Parra said. “I think it’s very important to be open and be accessible for people to make the connections, especially for newer students on campus who might not understand the landscape or might not know what places they can really plug into. So I hope I’m that person for people.”
Parra said that although others may see her as an “activist” or a “figure” on campus, she generally doesn’t think of herself that way.
“I’m an artist and community organizer,” she said. “I think that what I do can be labeled activism, but I also feel like activism can sometimes have a superficial tone to it.”
She added that this superficiality can go against what the organizing is trying to accomplish.
“I think being humble is extremely important,” she said. “I know a lot of people in movement spaces nationally, who activism can become their ‘thing’ or their ego, and people end up centering themselves as people and figures, rather than as a part of something larger. I think it’s important for people to remember that you’re being a part of something a whole lot bigger than yourself.”
Check out the organizations mentioned:
t h e d r a f t publication website
Million Hoodies – Bard chapter
Organizing for Undocumented Students Rights (OUSR)