Battling “social justice fatigue” – an interview with Ms. Erin Crosby


Leah Allen '22

Ms. Erin Crosby works to promote equity and cultural awareness within Greenwich, Connecticut.

The King Street Chronicle conducted an exclusive interview with Ms. Erin Crosby, Director of Women’s Empowerment and Racial Justice at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) Greenwich Center for Equity and JusticeIn an effort to foster social and systemic change in Greenwich, the YWCA Center for Equity and Justice offers various services, programs, and events centered around promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) within schools, communities, and workplaces.  Ms. Crosby has played a large role in spearheading the organization’s racial justice and social equity initiatives, including the Diversity, Inclusion, Values, and Equity (DIVE) Project, a series of workshops designed to provide foundational knowledge of anti-racism, allyship, and gender equity to organizations and school-age children.  She discussed her work with the Center for Equity and Justice, her thoughts on recent news surrounding the censorship of school curriculum to exclude topics of race, gender expression, and sexuality, and the importance of practicing radical self-care as a way to combat “social justice fatigue.”   Read the Q&A with senior Leah Allen, Co-Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor, below. 

How have you worked to spark change through your work at the YWCA Greenwich Center for Equity and Justice and the DIVE program?

At the YWCA Greenwich Center for Equity and Justice, we are specifically focused on gender and racial equity.  When we think about how to characterize this work, it is really an opportunity for us and for organizations that we work with to rethink policies, practices, and culture through the lens of racial and gender equity.  Within the YWCA Greenwich and through the consulting services and organizations we work with, we are also committed to recognizing that conversations are not the final step in this journey.  They are a just piece of the journey.  Really, the destination of our work is for people to reach a place where they can recognize the way that systems have been set up to disadvantage, marginalize, or exclude certain groups.  We want organizations to look inwards and think about the ways they have been contributing to that, unconsciously or consciously, and then start to shift towards more equitable policies and practices.  One of the things we do through the DIVE program is make sure that people have foundational knowledge and language for race and gender or racism and gender oppression.  This provides an opportunity for organizations, particularly those who have not been doing this kind of work historically, to be able to enter into the work in a way where they can learn foundational concepts.  We recognize that people cannot step into the full complexity of long-term work without taking some of these initial steps.”

Ms. Erin Crosby is the Director of Women’s Empowerment and Racial Justice at the YWCA Greenwich Center for Equity and Justice.  Courtesy of Mr. Christian Abraham

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work at the Center for Equity and Justice?

“What keeps me motivated is really two things.  The first one is realizing that we have a really special opportunity at YWCA Greenwich to do what we call operationalizing racial and gender equity.  That means asking ourselves questions like: how do we embed racial and gender equity in every part of an organization? How does it show up in every aspect of our own policies, practices, programming, services, and curriculum?  This is really about being able to do something comprehensively throughout an organization that will last for a long time.  That excites me.”

“The other thing that keeps me motivated is working with the young people in Greenwich.  It was inspiring being able to speak with young people who were really motivated by what happened in the summer of 2020 and by what they were experiencing in their schools that did not feel right.  I feel motivated knowing that there is a generation of people coming behind me that see the world differently than my generation did.  I am always reminded that some of the greatest movements around the world that have been about justice and progress were led by young people.  And that is the way it is always going to be.  I think it is exciting to think about a future built by people who are already thinking in all of these revolutionary ways.” 

I am always reminded that some of the greatest movements around the world that have been about justice and progress were led by young people.”

— Ms. Erin Crosby

There has been a lot of recent news surrounding “book-banning,” or censorship of school curricula to exclude content regarding race, gender, or sexuality.  What is your take on this and how does it play into this idea you mention of youth voices being vehicles for change?

“I think it is critically important that we continue to talk about issues of race and gender, or racism and misogyny, because when we do not, we end up building a society where people are invisible.  Their stories do not get told.  Their lived (and living) reality is not a part of our mainstream lives.  When I think of what a healthy society looks like, it is filled with communities in which people can be their fullest selves.  It is not a society in which people are pushed to the margins because we know that does not do them, or the rest of us, any good.  So when I see things happening like “book banning,” particularly around topics of race, gender, and sexuality, and when I see our country moving towards this place where we do not want to talk about some of the most challenging parts of our history or the things we are not proud of, I realize first and foremost this stems from fear.  This is the result of some select groups of people who have been able to hold dominant positions for a long time feeling fearful about what it would mean to interrogate the systems that have created hierarchies of human value.” 

“So I try to remember first that the reaction is about fear.  And then I try to remember for myself that there is an opportunity here.  There is nothing good that is going to come from banning books or ending conversations that have to do with race, gender, or sexuality.  As we talked about during an event that we had on Critical Race Theory, we know that talking about race and racism is really important to child development.  The sooner that you start talking about these things the more likely you are to have children that do not have certain biases.  So I see us having these conversations as an opportunity to radically shift the way the future looks.  Children will come into the world at an early age having their brains developed differently around issues of race and gender.”

While 2020 was a defining year in terms of social justice work, there has been a significant decline in momentum and enthusiasm for this work in subsequent years.  Where do you think this stems from?

“The summer of 2020 was a culmination of a number of different events that sparked this racial reckoning that we are experiencing.  And it is hard to talk about the events of the summer of 2020 without also recognizing that we were also in the early stages of the pandemic.  There was this real, palpable energy and motivation for doing something.  The summer of 2020 was a galvanizing moment where people across the country and across the world were motivated to change things.  And, as a result, we saw a lot of businesses, organizations, and schools make commitments to pursue racial justice.  That took all sorts of forms and that was really important.  But, where we are now, is about two years after the summer of 2020.  We have been in this pandemic for two years now, and there is a level of collective trauma that is associated with that.  That trauma carries exhaustion.  But also, I think that it was difficult for people to watch other people in the street during the summer of 2020 and witness what was an incredible amount of sadness and a considerable amount of justifiable and righteous rage.  People felt that.  You could not get away from that.  And so when people responded to it in 2020, they were responding to it because they felt it.  In the two years since then, people are not feeling that rage and sadness and motivation in the same way.”

“Now we are in this place where I would say people have to be motivated by something deeper.  And I think that is hard, especially for people who are not most affected by racial injustice and racial violence.  And so I think that we are in a place where some people do not feel the same urgency about the work.  There are organizations, people, companies, and schools that made declarations and commitments about “doing something” during and just after the summer of 2020 and they did not know what that work would look like long-term.  Many people just did not have models for that work.  And so now, two years from that moment, I think they are having to figure out: “how do we maintain this and move forward?”  What I hope happens is that they will ask themselves: “do we need to see racial violence perpetrated against vulnerable people or protests for months on end for us to stay motivated and committed to this work?”  I hope that the answer to that question is no, and I hope that people realize that this is lifelong work.  I hope people recognize that this is about the long walk towards freedom, and derive motivation from that.”

The systems that we live in are designed for us to continue to “grind” and continue to push in ways that are not always healthy for us.  And so as we do this work we have to do things that keep us healthy.  Have boundaries.  Take breaks.  Make time for laughter and joy.”

— Ms. Erin Crosby

What advice do you have for individuals struggling with “social justice fatigue?”

“Acknowledging this concept of “social justice fatigue” is critical in this work.  I recognize the ways in which I am tired.  I recognize the ways in which this work requires you to pivot, shift, and be creative.  That is a difficult thing to do.  The fatigue is real and I would encourage people to remember that social justice work and anti-oppression work is also about radical self-care.  Dismantling systems of oppression is also about centering our well-being.  The systems that we live in are designed for us to continue to “grind” and continue to push in ways that are not always healthy for us.  And so as we do this work we have to do things that keep us healthy.  Have boundaries.  Take breaks.  Make time for laughter and joy.  As I am saying this I am thinking of adrienne maree brown, who basically says, “activism work has to be pleasurable work, or else why would people keep doing it?”  So much of this work is about doing it as a community and not doing it alone.  We know that a community can keep us motivated and help us find pockets of joy.  My advice to people who are having social justice fatigue is to be brave enough to look at how you are doing the work and think about if there are ways that you need to be doing it differently.  Think about if there are moments where you need to pause and restore yourself.  I encourage people to really have boundaries in this work.  You cannot say yes to everything.  You just cannot.  Think about who is in your network or your community and how you all are taking care of each other so that there is an abundance of joy and laughter.  That is its own very special type of bravery and resistance.”

Featured Image by Leah Allen ’22