Working for change

Whether they are occupying Waterman to protest the war, fasting for livable wages or simply selling vegan cupcakes to support animal rights, activists have long been a highly visible and vocal part of the UVM community.After graduation, there is a lot of pressure to go in search of a ‘real job’ – one that pays off the loans by putting the degree to work. Does that pressure push the once passionate protestors to throw away the tie-dye and hang up the megaphone in exchange for a business suit and a Blackberry? Not likely. For UVM graduate Sam Maron, his activism took him to China after graduation – and forced him out. With opportunities for jobs in local and international non-profit organizations, graduates may find that they don’t need to sacrifice their commitment to social justice to make a living.Discovering the possibilities”You can actually do this as a profession – you can be a professional activist,” Llu Mulvaney-Stanak, the assistant director of community service at UVM Student Life, said.She would know – before holding her current job, Mulvaney-Stanak worked for five years at Outright Vermont, a non-profit support organization for the LGBTQ community in Vermont. Mulvaney-Stanak said that one of her missions at UVM is to show students that activism can take many forms, from community service to protesting to simply voting. “They are all very much connected,” Mulvaney-Stanak said. “Engaging in your community looks like many different things, and it is equally valuable and it is really just different tactics for the same purpose: creating change.”That conception of activism is something Mulvaney-Stanak said could help students begin a career in social justice, and she looks forward to inspiring students to look into such opportunities.”There are so many ways in which involvement needs to continue after college,” she said. “I think that people often leave here and don’t recognize the fact that they can still do that kind of work.” A visit to Career Services can help students realize just what kinds of options are available. Mary-Beth Barritt, the assistant director of UVM Career Services, said that it is not unusual for students to come in looking for a job that makes a difference. She recognizes that activism means different things to different people. “We ask, ‘What does making a difference look like to you?'” Barritt said. “Because for one student it is making a difference in the environment, for another it is making a difference with poverty, and for another it is making a difference with social justice for workers.”Students are sometimes overwhelmed by the opportunities available to them, Barritt said as she pulled up Idealist.org, a Web site which features job listings from over 10,000 organizations. Barritt said that many students also choose to go on to do service through programs such as the Peace Corps or Teach for America. “One of the nice things is that there are multiple career paths. It’s not like you go in and you just have one option,” she said.What an employer wantsWhen Sam Maron graduated from UVM in 2008, he knew he wanted to continue working with Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), a non-profit organization that campaigns for Tibet’s independence. Maron became interested in the Tibetan independence movement after hearing the Dalai Lama speak several years ago, and he founded the UVM chapter of SFT. Maron worked as an intern at SFT’s New York office the summer he graduated and is now a part-time staff member. “The way I got the job was that I volunteered here whenever I had free time over the past few years,” Maron said. “I demonstrated my commitment to SFT specifically this summer by coming after graduation and interning all summer for no pay.”Maron said he thinks he got the job because he showed passion for the cause. “I think it is important to show your commitment when you are trying to get into the social justice field,” he said.Maron was deported from China last summer for working with a group in staging a pro-Tibetan independence demonstration. Student activists may find that the skills employers are looking for, such as the ability to organize people around a cause, can be gained simply by being passionate and involved.”Volunteer work is very helpful in terms of helping me understand the logistics of event planning, advertising, and public relations,” Mike Verla, UVM ’11, said. Verla is an Eco-rep – a member of a group who spreads awareness of environmentally sound policies on campus. He also volunteers with the Burlington chapter of Oxfam America, an organization that works on poverty and hunger issues. “That understanding of all those elements is an important thing to have if you want to make an impact by reaching people and helping in the community,” he said. Barritt said those types of skills are exactly what employers are looking for. “Student activism jobs on campus are prime preparation for community organizing work. It is not in the office, it is out in the streets getting people organized around an issue,” she said.Pay and motivation But sometimes, passion for a cause can’t make ends meet. Barritt said that entry level positions at non-profits rarely pay more that $30,000, and often require long hours and challenging work.”You’re thinking, ‘I’ve got a college degree?'” she said. But wealth is something that many activists are willing to sacrifice. “In terms of income, I’d have to say that I’m not too worried,” Verla, who is leaning towards a career at a non-profit, said. “Money does not really influence me much. I would rather do what I like and work toward some sort of change.” Mulvaney-Stanak said that the stresses of her job at Outright Vermont compelled her to look for something different. “After five years of that, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m kind of feeling burnt out now, this is really hard to sustain,'” she said. “There are a lot of different elements involved in non-profit work, like fundraising and all of the ‘ugly’ stuff of the advocacy,” she said. “We used to joke that the eight hours of your day is all the crappy stuff that keeps the lights on, and that extra hour you stay afterward is what it is really all about.””Absolutely, you can expect to work a lot of hours for not a lot of pay,” said Maron, who works two jobs because his position at SFT is part-time. “You don’t get into a non-profit field hoping to make a six-figure salary. You do it because you care about what you are working on, and that’s why I’m here.”