Updated: The Becoming Human Zine: Student Reflections on a Campus in Crisis


DuBois Library at UMass Amherst. Photo: Umass.edu

Becoming Human

By Abby Brooks and the Mutual Aid Project 

In the Fall of 2023, the Mutual Aid Project (MAP) published a short article based on ongoing research about student well-being, care, and post-capitalist becomings at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Among other things, the article proposed that students are transgressing the limits and directives of capitalist ideologies and actively seeking out and building collaborative, relational ways of being. 

The article traveled well, and it was read in a number of different forums, including some classrooms at UMass. In the Winter and Spring of 2024, a working group in MAP transformed the short article into a zine that gained even more traction (see below). 

Creating a zine wasn’t an accident or a random choice. it was an intentional decision based on the peculiar power and positionality they harbor.

In a neoliberal world, young people are constantly put down as passive consumers, subjects simply acted upon, lacking any substantial agency. The tendrils of neoliberalism’s influence permeate our minds so deeply that we assume there is no alternative, and that visions of a better world are dangerously naive pipe dreams. Zines provide an avenue where we carve out an independent space for our voices to be heard outside of corporatized media and apart from dominant systems that seek to contain us. Although zines have been around for a while, they spring up at certain points of the economy. During the rapid privatization and stripping of social services in the 70s and 80s zines were everywhere. Now, still riding the waves of the pandemic and its repercussions, zines seem to be creeping their way up to center stage again. This is no coincidence.  

Zines embody non-hierarchical, post-capitalist, community-care initiatives. Due to their collaborative, hand-made, feminized constructions, zines have radical transformative potential and a unique ability to chip away at capitalism, vehemently fighting back while simultaneously building anew. Not only is the content of these zines filled with radical ideas and highlights students creating non-capitalist spaces but also the production and distribution of the zines are carried out with these same values. Experience is not only accepted as expertise, it’s required. They generate conversation. Community input is welcomed. They are free and accessible. The success of one opens up the door for the success of many others. They do not require permission but instead necessitate action. And they forge vast networks of solidarity, linking together concurrent struggles for liberation. 

We are so often hidden behind screens, typing away emails, scrolling through our feeds, and numbing ourselves with the TV. Zines are something tangible. Something to hold in your hands. There is a beauty in that. A beauty in messy mistakes. Rough edges. Poorly framed text. Over-saturated colors. Imperfections. Made by a human. Not a machine, a code, or some mystical AI. It’s easy to become alienated from people’s labor, to forget the hours one pours into their work. Zines remind us that there are real people behind the things we consume. They remind us to slow down, to take the long way of doing something. To appreciate the process, not just the final product. To value art and creativity. 

As a college student, nearing graduation, the world can look pretty bleak. The climate is rapidly deteriorating, state-sanctioned violence is unfolding before our very eyes, housing is a nightmare, mental health rates are in the gutter, and job opportunities that align with our values and could financially sustain us are but distant dreams. What we need now is a movement centered around joy, relationship-building, and creativity. Zines literally add color to the work we’re doing, sustaining and reinvigorating our energy by bringing back a child-like whimsy of wonder, a radically optimistic future. The world I am trying to build is one where people are happier, healthier, and not just surviving but thriving. Therefore I think it is imperative that the process of getting there also achieves those aims. 

The Becoming Human Zine

Additional Note
This zine was produced before the student encampments to end UMass’s complicity in genocide, and the subsequent militarization of the campus by upper administration. Since that time, it’s been gratifying to see the swelling numbers of faculty and others in the campus community who are publicly condemning the actions and judgement of the Chancellor and supporting student rights to protest.

What this zine is pointing towards, however, is something much more fundamental than legal rights and institutional responsibility. Students at UMass—like an increasing number of communities—are rejecting the capitalist, modernist proposition that they are individuals whose essential responsibility is to themselves, and are instead carefully attending to and embracing their relational, interdependence with others. This was manifested in one way through The Popular University for Gaza. Commonning a part of UMass’s campus, students, faculty, and community members hosted teach ins and art-builds. A student-run materials tent ensured everyone was supplied with sunscreen, masks, water, and food. Folks who were strangers just the week before held each other, laughed, and cried in community.   

The student campaign to disclose and divest is not only a moral intervention against genocide—though young people in the US are certainly showing us courageous, moral clarity.  It is an attunement to and refusal of the ways in which their institution—their home—and by extension the people that comprise it, are assembled into relationships of profit and death. Students are building connection and solidarity among themselves, and with an international uprising who are refusing to see themselves as powerless, separated, individuals, but who are demanding, and living into, other ways of being together in the world beyond the imperatives of colonial capitalism. 

Disclose, Divest! “In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians.”Abby Brooks & Boone Shear

The Mutual Aid Project is a collective of students, staff, and faculty that explores, researches, supports, and instantiates mutual aid at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and beyond.

Each edition of Becoming Human will feature an article, reflection, interview, poetry, or other types of expression that engage with a creative community or municipal effort. These will include original features that discuss a local initiative and also stories about efforts in other parts of the world that we might learn from. The growing narratives, relations, and power from which other worlds are being assembled, maybe, can help reorient our hope and desire—and resignation—away from the death drive of white supremacist, heteronormative, capitalist modernity, and towards an open, uncharted horizon of radical egalitarianism and towards the reality that other worlds are in the making or already here. For the full introduction to Becoming Human that appeared in its inaugural column, look here For a listing a previous columns, look here.

Acknowledgements: This column is in dialogue and solidarity with numerous collaborators and comrades including Vin Lyon-Callo, Meredith Degyansky, Penn Loh, Stephen Healy, students in Anthropology 340 – Other Economies are Possible, Anthropology 341 Building Solidarity Economies, Anthropology 597CC Community, Commons, Communism, and the pluriverse of world-making and world-defending efforts, movements, and projects in Massachusetts and around the worlds. 

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2 thoughts on “Updated: The Becoming Human Zine: Student Reflections on a Campus in Crisis

  1. This was such a fantastic read!! So honoured to be friends with the amazing Abby who wrote this! I could not be prouder of the things the Mutual Aid Project are doing at UMass. “Be Revolutionary” put to action. 🙂

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