Social Justice Week Inspires Personal, Social, Institutional Growth

As an institution, how can Ripon College better understand and address social justice on and off campus? That and other questions have been examined during Ripon’s first Social Justice Week that started Monday, November 10. Presented by the Student Activities Office, the integration of lecture, discussion and media provided multiple ways for students, staff, faculty and community members to engage in respectful conversations and experiences related to social justice issues.

Friday’s closing event will feature students and others eating dinner with an imposed special need or challenge at 5:30 p.m. in the Presidential Dining Room. Students’ adjustments in acclimating to and ideally understanding the disability will “help people realize some things they take for granted on a daily basis that people with disabilities have trouble with,” says Assistant Director of Student Activities Kyonna Withers.

A socially just society is developed over time, and its outcomes include the fair (re)distribution of resources, opportunities, work and wage conditions and responsibilities, organizers say. Within this process, systemic and personal origins of injustice are challenged. People within such a society are empowered to make active changes within greater society and themselves.

Assistant Director of Multicultural Recruitment and Programming James Bland launched the idea of an entire week devoted to social justice after last year’s successful social justice retreat. He and other faculty and staff developed the event to examine different topics and methods within social justice, as to engage more audiences in discussion and participation.

He says one of the driving forces behind social injustice is a lack of awareness of people’s divergent needs or resources. Bland says the week has served as an “educational tool to get awareness out and hopefully see some change,” whether that be personal, social or institutional.

The week’s activities included hearing Dr. Eddie Moore, director of diversity at Brooklyn Friends School speak at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh; watching an episode of the 2005 documentary Transgeneration, an eight-part series that examines students transitioning from male to female and female to male; a town hall discussion led by President Zach Messitte, providing a platform for students, staff and faculty to discuss opinions and initiatives on increasing diversity within the College; and a speech within the town hall discussion presented by Black Student Union member Clinton Glover ’15, discussing how the renovation of the Martin Luther King Lounge has been neglected and has since become a “place for storage,” instead of a “place we can call home.”

On Thursday, a system that promotes meeting the unique needs of students through a restorative justice program was the topic of a TED Talk. Led by Pieper Scholar and Professor of Religion David William Scott, participants sipped tea while watching Chicago Public School teacher Jean Klasovsky discuss how her school’s implementation of such a program inspired community and individual success through shifts in attitudes, fewer drop-out rates and higher test scores.

Social justice is inherently linked to these and other audiences, as its aim is to equally distribute opportunities and resources within society, organizers say. When a minority of any sort is overlooked and the needs are not met, the community may be subsequently disregarded, ignored or shamed. The demands of social justice cross personal, social and institutional levels, and true sustainable growth can start simply and expand, with a forum, video or cup of tea.

Kaylie Longley ’15
Saint Francis, Wisconsin

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