Social Justice Symposium teaches advocacy, awareness, activism

Keynote speaker Marcia Chatelain: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

At the Social Justice Symposium, which took place last Saturday, around 120 participants gathered in the Student Center for the free, day-long conference designed around the three core aspects of social justice: advocacy, awareness and activism.

The symposium, which was hosted by the Department of Residential Life and various offices and resource centers within the Department of Student Life, featured a keynote speaker, breakout sessions and small groups that participants returned to throughout the day for personal reflection.

Keynote speaker Marcia Chatelain spoke about how to take action, and she addressed current social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March. Chatelain, an MU graduate, is an assistant professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University. Chatelain encouraged participants to take part in activism any way they can, whether through social media or consumer boycotting.

“We are seeing, every day, people who are saying, ‘I am no longer waiting for someone to rescue me from this,’ and, ‘I am no longer waiting to imagine myself as the perfect activist, as someone who gets all of the terms, as someone who is beyond critique, as someone who can learn nothing more and then I will act,’” Chatelain said. “Those thoughts are not helping us now. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Chatelain denounced the “special snowflake” label often placed on progressives.

“Being a progressive is about being called out, challenged, told to check your privilege, told to check yourself, ‘read this book and then come back to me,’” Chatelain said. “I don’t know what progressive spaces some other people are in, but that is some of the most challenging work to try to be consistent with your values and your action, to be inclusive in your organizing, to think about the ways you talk and the impact you’re having on people, this is the most challenging space.”

One of the small group sessions featured an activity where participants were able to see which areas of their lives they were considered to have privilege. Participants colored in a privilege wheel to visualize in what areas they were privileged or marginalized and minoritized. This activity showcased the complexity of privilege beyond the more well-known categories of race, gender or sexual orientation. Participants were encouraged to analyze other areas in which they may have privilege, such as citizenship, gender expression, mental health, family structure and education.

“Being a person of color, you’re like, ‘I’m going to be more marginalized,’ and that’s how you expect it, but you get down to education and citizenship and things you don’t ever think about, so it really opens your mind and makes you think concretely about everything,” diversity peer educator Alex Carranza said. “I might be oppressed in one part of my life, but I’m actually really privileged in this other part ... It really challenges you to get to know who you are and challenge yourself and feel like you should use those privileges to do something.”

A large focus of the symposium was active allyship and taking action to advocate for those in marginalized communities. Freshman Jahai George said the best way for his peers at MU to advocate for him is simply to listen to the experiences of marginalized students and try to understand their viewpoints.

“Even if we might not share the same experiences day in and day out, it makes it better to know that even though this person doesn’t go through it, that they can understand that this is a serious thing and not a personal experience,” George said. “A lot of people invalidate your personal experience because it is personal, every experience is valid if it provokes an emotional response.”

Edited by Madi McVan | mmcvan@themaneater.com

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