Self-Care and Belonging: In Conversation with Charm Little-Ray, BK Taylor and Lyosha Gorshkov

Campus directors and associates Lyosha Gorshkov, BK Taylor and Charm Little-Ray hosted a panel discussing self-care and activism on Jan. 25 at the ALANA Cultural Center. The event was integral to the Martin Luther King Jr. Week celebration at Colgate, which seeks to highlight the causes of social justice and unity by hosting figures influential within and beyond the campus community.

The panel took place in the ALANA Cultural Center, which serves as an inclusive and educational space on the Colgate campus. At ALANA, students have celebrated and honored the histories, struggles and achievements of diverse cultures since the 1960s. Its establishment directly concerns the panel’s theme of discussion; it was established in the late 1960s, when activists of the Association of the Black Collegians performed a series of sit-ins. Their group has since evolved to become Colgate’s Black Student Union. 

ALANA is not the only center on campus founded by activist efforts. Haven, a sexual violence resource facility, was launched in the same vein. The Tuesday panel hosted Haven’s Associate Director of Survivor Support Services Charm Little-Ray. Led by a leadership staff and supporting ambassadors, Haven provides counseling services, connections to other university departments and community resources. Its establishment was inspired by a call from concerned students urging the necessity of such a space within the Colgate community. Little-Ray remarked as to how, today, self-preservation is ingrained in the training process for the emotionally intensive work. 

“We have a program where our ambassadors go through a five-week course where they learn how to support a survivor, but also how to support themselves,” said Little-Ray. “You hear these stories and it can weigh on you. You have to learn how to preserve yourself.”

The integration of such training practices for Haven ambassadors ensures that members maintain their health as they provide services for survivors of sexual violence and/or intimate partner violence. This practice, as discussed throughout the panel, is an act of radical self-care. Such acts enable one who is in touch with their personal health to develop a stronger connection with their community, fostering reciprocal support. Strength in a conscious, unified collective was also discussed by BK Taylor, director of the Shaw Wellness Institute. At Shaw, dynamic considerations including but not limited to physical, social and intellectual health frame their holistic philosophy of wellness. Communal activities such as bystander workshops and peer coaching are among the many services offered in the facility. In his responses, Taylor emphasized the utility of unity in self-care practices, though societal pressures may encourage a more individualized route.

“Internal focus is a bit of Western skew from the concept of a whole,” said Taylor. “Self-care does not have to be specific to one person … it can also be about engaging with your community, and connecting back to your roots.”

Furthermore, Taylor discussed the direct historical connection between self-care and activism. He traced the lingual lineage of the term “self-care” back to the 1950s, when it was an early medical suggestion for PTSD treatment. But, as Taylor explained, it was the civil rights movement that popularized the term, as collectives united to amplify the voices of the marginalized. 

“Self-care started really gaining ground in the 1960s, during the civil rights movement,” said Taylor. “The term began to become a key element of that activist experience. Self-care for people can also be about engaging with your community.”

Lyosha Gorshkov expanded with further examples of such personal and collective exercises of self-care. Considering Gorshkov’s background as an immigrant to the U.S. from Russia, Gorshkov spoke to the feeling of marginalization experienced in both countries. 

“Being a queer immigrant, you’re always in the state of being not here, and not there,” said Gorshkov. “You’re already not there, because you’re exiled, and you’re not here, because there are certain groups who do not accept [you].”

Gorhskov’s practices of self-care thus derived from this irrevocable feeling. Gorshkov began to seek new experiences — visiting gyms and hiking to maintain mental and physical health. At Colgate, Gorshkov has fostered safe spaces and events central to belonging for students who identify with the LGBTQ+ community. Gorshkov encourages allyship to all, particularly to bystanders who witness marginalization. When one denies transphobic, homophobic and sexist language, they intuitively shape ideals of acceptance.

“Being proactive means we are changing attitude[s],” said Gorshkov. “That [perpetrating] person might not be transphobic, homophobic, sexist, by measure, but they are using that language. Language creates ideology.”

Speakers and campus leaders Gorshkov, Taylor and Little-Ray all support a similar future — one where individuals may preserve their wellbeing, contribute this health to their communities and thus foster a more comfortable future for the marginalized.