Social Justice Symposium brings discussion of advocacy and activism for social change

The fourth annual Social Justice Symposium hopes to give students the knowledge to spread awareness and change through their theme, Tools for Change: Awareness, Advocacy and Activism.

The theme for the fourth annual Social Justice Symposium, a one-day conference to discuss and spread awareness of social justice issues at MU, was “Tools for Change: Awareness, Advocacy and Activism.”

The event took place Saturday in the MU Student Center. There were four breakout sessions focusing on issues including ethnicity, culture, education, women’s issues, LGBT activism, gender issues, sexual health, music, disabilities and climate change.

Representatives from the Department of Residential Life, the Multicultural Center, the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, the LGBTQ Resource Center, the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, the Center for Leadership and Service and the Women’s Center organized this year’s event.

Michelle Murphy, the Center for Leadership and Service’s senior coordinator, helped organize the event and said she hopes it spreads awareness across MU’s campus.

“We were trying to build a symposium that would be intriguing, educating, informative and impactful for a variety of people,” she said. “Hopefully those that did attend are able to take the things they learned and share it with others and those individuals seek awareness and take an active approach in social justice.”

Erin Kiffmeyer, graduate assistant for the Center for Leadership and Service, also assisted in planning the event and said she hopes this event inspires students to continue to educate themselves further on these issues.

“Our hope is that this is a springboard experience around social justice issues,” Kiffmeyer said. “Students can come here and take what they learned to wherever they want to run with it.”

The day began with an opening address given by junior Payton Head, the president of the Missouri Students Association.

He urged students to ask questions and engage in spreading awareness of these issues across campus. A major part of his campaign, Ignite Mizzou, focused on social justice issues and making sure all students feel included at MU.

“You can always be doing more in social justice,” Head said. “You never stop learning. Sometimes it’s hard to get started. How do I help? What do I do? There’s so much to do. I hope students got an idea of where to start making a more inclusive campus and community by coming here today.”

The four breakout sessions each lasted 50 minutes. Participants got to choose from four options for each session.

Following this year’s theme, all the breakout sessions educated participants on issues, taught how to advocate for solutions and encouraged actions to make positive changes.

One session, titled “Sticky Situations” taught participants effective strategies to intervene in situations where minority groups are marginalized. Another workshop, “Intersection of Sexual Assault and Mental Health” explored the impact that sexual assault can have on a person and how to help yourself and others experiencing mental health issues.

Some sessions focused on the economics of social justice issues.

A session called “Money Matters: Divestment and Socially Responsible Reinvestment” taught participants about the growing trend on college campuses of divesting in industries that support social injustices and investing in ethical companies.

Many sessions focused on LGBT rights.

The session “Beyond the 101- LGBTQ Activism” hosted a discussion on various issues within that community. Another session called “APIA and LGBTQ” discussed how the Asian and Pacific Islander American community and the LGBT community don’t seem to overlap but this session focused on forming the bridge between these identities.

Race issues were also popular among the workshops offered.

Other topics covered throughout different sessions also included how to use social media to advocate for change, the international student experience at MU, degrading lyrics in modern hip-hop music and people living with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

A workshop called “Grassroots Organizing with Ferguson’s Students,” taught by the symposium’s keynote speaker, Airick Leonard West, discussed how the superintendent of Michael Brown’s school reached out to Community 360, a training program for advocacy, to teach her students.

Freshman and MSA senator Greer Wetherington said this session increased her passion for social justice.

“It made me feel really empowered,” she said. “It gives students and people who are eager to make a change the resources to know how to change campus.”

The day ended with West’s keynote speech. West, who is from Kansas City, is a big brother with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City, a volunteer with Court Appointed Special Advocates of Jackson County and a volunteer summer camp director for Community 360.

He said the brain is separated into two parts: the oldest part of the brain directs involuntary actions, such as breathing, and the newer part is everything that is learned.

West encouraged participants to question the social “norms” people were taught and never question. Our views of social injustices are not natural human nature, he said.

West urged students to live with the oldest part of your brain, and to forget the unnatural prejudices taught by society and operate with the part of the brain that controls the natural instincts.

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