Reflecting on Social Justice

I just got back from the Student Social Justice Training Institute at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. I met over forty amazing, kind and passionate individuals from across the United States who are working to make social change through social justice on their campuses and in their communities.

I didn’t quite know what to expect going into this four-day institute. I had no idea how many other participants there would be, what the content would be, or the schedule.

“ Adams, Bell and Griffin (2007) define social justice as both a process and a goal. “The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.” — SSJTI Website

I wanted to have my mind-blown. I wanted intensive content on history, strategy, intersectionality, community, etc. Instead, most of the content and activities were familiar to me and I gained a little bit from each one. The conversations in small groups, at meals, and in the evenings were where I gained the most.

Here I want to share some of my biggest takeaways from the Institute. These aren’t strategic or techniques. These are some of the things that I have thought about after they were brought up in conversations.

Why do you care?

Why do you care about social justice? More specifically, why do you care about liberating an oppressed group you don’t identify with?

This isn’t a question we often ask ourselves, and it can be hard to put into words. “I just do. How can you not care about it?”

This is something I’ve now started to really reflect on. When you can put something into words and put it onto paper, it makes it more solid. And the next time someone asks you why you care about social justice, you know exactly why and how to communicate it.

Intent v. Impact

Most people have the best of intentions, but that is only one side of things. Our words and our actions have impact, and we need to be more self-aware about the impact we are having on others.

Thinking about the impact you’re about to make along with your intent could mean the difference of damaging a friendship or strengthening one.

This idea came up throughout the week. Going forward, I will be thinking more about the impact I am making with everything that I do.

You can’t call yourself an ally

Paraphrased, what one participant said was, ‘You can’t call yourself an ally. You are named one by the subordinated group you are trying to be an ally to.’

This resonated with me. Ally is a verb. It means that the person is actively disrupting the status quo. When someone makes a racist “joke”, an ally is calling them on it. When they see oppression, they are disrupting it.

See this link to see the difference between an Actor, Ally, and Accomplice.

Growth in social justice hurts

My core group facilitator said this the first night we met as a group. And he repeated it on the last night when the growth and hurting was actively happening.

I’ve had my own experiences with this in my community. When I was hurting, I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t know what I should do. For the most part, I’ve honestly recoiled and taken myself out of the fight. But that’s not how change happens.

This begs the question my facilitator asked us on the last night, How do we show up when the work gets messy?

I’m still trying to figure this out myself. What I know is that social justice takes a community. It takes love and trust that we are working toward a common goal.

I don’t believe the solution is permanently taking yourself out of the equation when the growth hurts, no matter how bad it is. Take the time you need, do some self-care, and then come back in. We need a community and an understanding that we are all growing and ignorant in some areas. What matters is that we are open to learning and actively listening to one another. Simply put: Own your shit, learn from it, and keep going.

Thank you to everyone I met at the SSJTI. It was an amazing week learning with and from everyone and I hope we come together again in the future in our social justice work.

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