The Collegian has given me the opportunity to advocate for myself and others who don’t have a voice

Sharing my experience using the Collegian as a platform to call out injustice

Photo+courtesy+of+Julia+Oktay

Photo courtesy of Julia Oktay

By Julia Oktay, Assistant Op/Ed Editor

The first time I spoke with a Massachusetts Daily Collegian correspondent, I was facing housing insecurity. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was still finding my footing as an independent student.

“I have an Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Determination,” I told McKenna Premus, who is now our managing editor. I had planned to work as a resident assistant my sophomore year, but when the University of Massachusetts reversed its reopening plan that fall, I was left without housing.

“My primary residence is on campus, or at least it was,” I continued. “It’s really stressful and honestly, I have lost a lot of trust and respect for the University. I used to love UMass, I used to be really proud of going to UMass… but to be honest, I have never been so ashamed to be a UMass student in my entire career here.”

I signed a lease off campus that year. I made the decision to leave my RA community in pursuit of more stable housing. I spent some time writing for HerCampus, where I never found community. Feeling disenchanted with my experience at the University of Massachusetts, I turned to the Collegian in the spring of my junior year.

My first article at the Collegian went viral. For weeks, it was the top-read story of the entire year.

After a large gathering at a fraternity off campus, the University blamed students for being “cavalier” about COVID. My article called upon the University to take responsibility for welcoming students back to campus in the first place, citing an emergency fund of $2.4 billion. Many disagreed with me. A few reached out to me by email, praising my writing and offering ideas on what to write about next.

The passionate response from the community took me by surprise. I expected my article to get lost in the depths of the internet, just like so many of my HerCampus articles had, but the Collegian audience is an engaged one, and it made me feel like I could make a difference. I was frustrated with how the University was treating me and my fellow students, and I finally had a platform to speak my mind.

My next big-ticket article highlighted the University’s lackluster response to the anti-Asian Atlanta shooting of April 2021. The University glossed right over anti-Asian hate incidents happening on our campus, acting as though our campus was immune to it. I had seen it with my own eyes on campus and read about it all over social media.

I spoke with several Asian students at UMass who echoed my sentiment. Each was grateful that I had heard their concerns and advocated on their behalf. I was proud that I was able to give them a voice.

My “Isenbro culture” article was next to echo through the UMass community. After a harrowing month of in-person classes, I felt it necessary to call out the sexist culture of the Isenberg School of Management. The comments I received on that article were disappointing. They came from men who dismissed my arguments and attacked my character. The responses I received publicly were offensive at best, but in private, it was a whole different story. Classmates I had barely ever spoken to approached me to thank me for my article. I received DMs on Instagram and private emails from women who shared my experience.

Anne Massey, Dean of the Isenberg School reached out to me after reading that article. She wanted to know what was going on and how she could help. I gave her my ideas and we developed an action plan together.

Whether or not that will actually make a difference, I don’t know. But what I do know is that this culture is now documented. Anyone who wants to go to the Isenberg School of Management can do a quick Google search and find my article. UMass will feel the consequences of my article for decades to come.

That is what I value about the Collegian the most. Our audience is the most engaged one I have ever had the pleasure of serving. The feedback I receive on my articles — even the hate comments —  is extremely rewarding. An article that gets people talking is a job well done.

From starting a Blogspot website at 11 years old to becoming an assistant editor at the Daily Collegian, I have always been a writer at heart. The Collegian has given me the opportunity to use my talents to advocate for myself and others who don’t have a voice.

I am not at risk of homelessness anymore. I accepted the opportunity to join the world of data analytics at the TJX Companies, and I will never face housing insecurity again.

I won’t say that I’ve found my community at the Collegian. But I’ve done some great work here, and I am proud of what I’ve accomplished.

Julia Oktay was an assistant op/ed editor, and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @juliadoktay.