Social Justice Symposium promotes social justice advocacy on MU’s campus

RHA President Billy Donley: “I’m in a student leadership position and a lot of these workshops and programs are very valuable to me to understand different topics such as privilege and allyship.”

This past Saturday was Kelsey Kupferer’s first year working on the planning committee through the Center for Leadership and Service for the Social Justice Symposium.

“The idea of the Social Justice Symposium is that it’s an academic space open to all students,” Kupferer said. “It’s free, it’s accessible, it’s a place where people can come and learn about whatever social justice topics are of the most interest to them.”

The annual MU Social Justice Symposium was held over the weekend in Leadership Auditorium in the Student Center. Around 120 people attended the event, which was the symposium’s four-year anniversary.

The Social Justice Symposium is a one-day conference in which students and faculty come together to learn and educate others about how to be better advocates for social justice. According to the flyer, the conference is designed to create conversation around the three core concepts of social justice: awareness, advocacy and activism.

Kupferer cites the symposium as an “academic space” due to the workshop format of the conference. Attendees can choose which to attend based on the summary of each workshop in the schedule.

There were 16 workshops in total, ranging from “Recognizing the Able” to “Clicktivism, the Good and Bad of Service and Free Speech.” With both staff and student presenters, attendants had the opportunity learn from their peers and trained professionals on how they can improve their communities.

Josey Herrera, a planning committee member through the Division of Inclusion and Equality, has attended the symposium since her sophomore year.

“I got to attend the very first Social Justice Symposium and it was a very powerful experience,” Herrera said. “I really enjoyed being able to sit in discussions with my peers.”

One of the most highly anticipated aspects of the symposium is the keynote speaker. Last year’s speaker was interim MSA President Payton Head and this year it was Kira Hudson Banks. Banks is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Saint Louis University, who researches discrimination and its impact on mental health and intergroup relations.

“She has a lot of experience working with both students and administrators and helping the students advocate for their rights,” Kupferer said.

The format of the keynote was one of the biggest changes to the symposium this year. Instead of the keynote speaker giving the last presentation, the symposium opened with the keynote. Banks’ presentation focused on “leading through cultural change” and discussed topics such as Concerned Student 1950 and why race should matter in society.

Another major change at the symposium this year were the action workshops that took the place of the keynote speaker who would normally close. There were eight caucuses in total that all were meant to promote action planning.

“They will help people put action behind their words and thoughts,” Herrera said. “Usually at the end of a day like that when you’re talking about some really deep and heavy (topics), you go home and don’t really know what to do with it anymore. You want to enact and change and be an advocate and this gives our participants the opportunity to start this process before they leave.”

Billy Donley, president of the Residence Halls Association, has attended the symposium for the past two years.

“I had a positive experience last year that just kind of drew me back,” Donley said. “I’m in a student leadership position and a lot of these workshops and programs are very valuable to me to understand different topics such as privilege and allyship. I think it’s very valuable for student leaders to attend.”

Edited by Emily Gallion |

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