My Gap Year Helped Me Connect Issues of Social Justice

Charlotte Robertson Social Justice Gap Year

In this interview, Charlotte Robertson, a 2014 Global Gap Year alumna and a student at Ithaca College where she is a Park Scholar, talks about finding direction after her gap year, her advocacy to bring issues of injustice to light and people she regards as heroes. Charlotte is also an alum of Myers Park High School in Charlotte, NC.

What inspired your interest in social issues?

Though I’d like to think that I would have found my passion for social justice work despite my participation in Thinking Beyond Borders, I’m truly left uncertain. TBB changed the way that I looked at the world. It changed the way I looked at other people. Most importantly, perhaps, it helped me connect global issues of injustice and understand that these problems were systemic. Having first hand experiences with people affected by extreme poverty, while simultaneously being exposed to social justice ideas, allowed me to put a name to all that I was seeing. It opened my eyes and there is truly not a day that goes by where I do not think about the people I worked with and lived with during my time as a TBB student. Keeping them in my head and my heart inspires me to continue to work towards social justice and ignites my passion to be an agent of change each and every day.

After your gap year, how did you put your experiences to use in college?

In college, I’ve become increasingly vocal about gender and racial inequality. I’ve devoted my time to the Feminists United executive board at my school and to the collective for the local Take Back the Night. Since TBB, I’ve taken part in my first public protest, lobbied on Capitol Hill, and written multiple college blog posts for Huffington Post. My blog posts have ranged from talking about “voluntourism,” and the dangers of being a white savior, to the murder of Michael Brown and the racial implications behind his death.

You are vocal about social issues online, do you have a particular issue that you are most interested in?

What TBB taught me most is that the issues I care about are all interconnected. There is no way to be concerned about racial equality without fighting for gender equity. There is no way to understand the environmental crisis without understanding its ties to racial oppression. How can someone fight for LBGT rights if they don’t understand that our society is patriarchal? How can I fight for international justice if I don’t understand the deeper implications of colonialism? Or women’s rights without looking at their educational opportunities? I’m interested in working with sex trafficking in Asia after college. However, I now know that to make an impact in one area I must understand and advocate for other intersecting issues.

Did you set goals you wanted to achieve during your gap year?

Primarily, I wanted to grow into myself. I had lost a bit of myself in high school. High school is that time where everyone and everything is telling you that you can’t deviate from the norm. I remember writing in my journal at the beginning of the trip that I wanted to be interesting by the end of the next seven months. I don’t know what I meant by “interesting” at the time. I don’t know if pre-TBB me thought that riding a camel or jumping off of the world’s tallest bridge bungee jump would make me interesting, and perhaps it does. However, I was finally filled with a passion and a purpose. I left TBB with direction, as well as a version of myself that I liked significantly better than the person I had been seven months prior.

Who are your heroes?

Honestly, three of my biggest heroes are the program leaders that I had on my gap year trip: Beth, Allison, and Stacey. Each of these women helped me understand myself better during different parts of the trip. All of them are inspirations and prove that you can be successful, while still doing what you love. It’s hard to describe these women in a way that does them justice. The only thing I can say is that, without them, I would never have been able to grow into the person I am today.

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