Petite hands cut, paste, and glue, covering the pages of a binder in the bedroom of a 6th grade girl. Don’t look for celebrities and pretty pictures — instead, clippings of world hunger, sustainability concerns and oppression fill the sleeves. A notebook full of things that hurt the maker’s soul.

Emily Blackshire called this binder “The Revolution,” and she planned to start one by fixing each problem in those pages and advocating for the oppressed.

Not much has changed since Blackshire first made that notebook, except she might be more intentional.

“It’s not just an undying love for people, but I have trouble shaking them off and not caring,” Blackshire said. She still remembers hearing about the Trail of Tears in second grade and thinking, “This is the kind of thing that happens when people don’t realize that other people are people too.”

Clemson student Emily Blackshire, second from right, meets with fellow Peer Dialogue Facilitators.

Emily Blackshire, second from right, meets with fellow Peer Dialogue Facilitators Darien Smith, far right, and Jasmine Kearse.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Accept one of Blackshire’s well-known invitations to “chat over coffee,” and those pages of her childhood will come to life for you.

“I have a long way to go before I’m doing it right,” she said, but she shares as she goes, helping others think of themselves as part of a long-term and greater movement, not just of their immediate circumstances.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight and should have nothing to do with pride or personal gain,” Blackshire said.

She knows from experience. Instead of attending college immediately after graduating high school, Blackshire lived in Uganda for five months. She worked with Light Gives Heat, a community development organization. There — where her and her roommates’ only everyday electrical appliance was a waffle maker — she learned what it means to listen and collaborate.

“You can make so much more of an impact if you realize that it’s not about you,” she said. She says her work helped her move away from thinking “should be” to “could be” because she saw how people went in with preconceptions of what worked instead of approaching issues with a more comprehensive mindset and understanding the entirety of a situation.

“Just because you think you’re doing a good thing, doesn’t mean you’re doing a good thing for the whole community,” she said.

That recognition and determination to make a holistic difference would make her sixth grade self proud. To better equip herself for her challenges ahead, Blackshire is majoring in language and international health with a focus in Spanish and community development; she also hopes to minor in global politics.

“Is saying that you want to create a better world the most pretentious thing you can say? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I want to leave a better world,” Blackshire said.

As Blackshire begins changing the world by starting with Clemson, a clipping about hunger in Blackshire’s old album fades.

Her recent campus food recovery program proposal hopes to create a pipeline between dining providers and hungry community members as well as a food pantry for the campus community. It would work by taking all the usable, leftover food from Clemson’s dining locations and making it available to “food insecure” community members throughout Pickens and Oconee counties. The on-campus pantry would make healthy nonperishables available to Clemson students with similar needs.

Food insecure describes a person who has no consistent, healthy access to food because he/she cannot afford either groceries or a campus meal plan. Some groups are more susceptible than others, especially non-traditional or international graduate and undergraduate students. By Blackshire’s estimate, this program could ease the daily fears of hundreds of community members on and off campus.

Photo of Clemson language and international health studentEmily Blackshire on campusAcross its pages, another image dims as Blackshire fights tirelessly for a healthier earth.

On campus, she works with the Clemson Undergraduate Student Government Sustainability Committee. Though she sees long-term, global sustainability as the end goal, Blackshire volunteers with the committee to effect changes here and now. She hopes to maintain enthusiasm for a better, forward-thinking campus.

“I care deeply about the Earth, and I worry that while it’s trendy now, someday people won’t think it’s cool,” Blackshire said. She wants to see concern for the earth enter into social awareness permanently.

As more images fade, the voices that whisper from the pages of her binder grow louder. That’s why she also works as a Peer Dialogue Facilitator for the Harvey and Lucinda Gantt Center for Student Life.

Blackshire thinks students need to talk about the problems our society faces in order to create a safer place for the oppressed and to better understand the value of a multicultural, inclusive and informed community.

“Dialogue is a really powerful tool,” said Blackshire when she talked about holding each other accountable. She believes that systemic issues propagate more easily when individuals of similar backgrounds and traditionally privileged environments come together without challenging conceptions about the world.

“Students should go into rooms to ruffle feathers — but without hurting anybody,” she said. She actively engages with communities and student coalitions to start conversations which could make campus a better place.

“I love being in a room with the individuals of Clemson having discussions about how we can leave it better than we’ve found it. I love talking about what Clemson is, not as a brand, but a body.”

A friend of hers once asked if she ever had fun.

“Of course I have fun,” she said, explaining that she loves her community and her activities. “But,” she added, “I’m here to get an education,” and described her perfect day as one full of classes and work before ending it with ice cream.

The world has always weighed on Blackshire’s shoulders. When many students would be flipping through Web pages and Instagram photos, she flips through the pages of her binder now tucked away in her mind. She looks constantly for a new sleeve that she can empty and problems to solve.

“As a Clemson student, it’s not what I’m often told I should do, but something I think I should do for my own sake. My life is cool, and I want other people to have cool lives too,” she said.