Social Justice Toolbox

Ella Taught Me: Shattering the Myth of the Leaderless Movement

By Barbara Ransby | COLORLINES

Who gets to tell the story? This is a question implicit in the work I do as a historian. But the question I have been wrestling with lately is more immediate: Who gets to shape the narrative, define the history-makers, and capture the words and images of the current black-led, anti-state violence movement evolving in the United States right now?

Even the act of naming a movement like this has its power. Last month The New York Times Magazine bestowed part of the defining privilege on a young former sports writer, Jay Caspian Kang. Kang reduced the growing movement to the personal story lines of two young, earnest and committed social media activists, DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta “Netta” Elzie. While their work has made a critical contribution, Kang frames that work in a way that misrepresents the larger movement. With a narrow range of sources, Kang’s piece concluded that “Twitter is the revolution,” that “our demand is simple: stop killing us,” and that the emergent movement is “leaderless.”

On Designing and Teaching “The Framing of Social Justice: Law, Culture and Politics ‘here’ and ‘there’”

By Shayna Plaut, Contributing Editor, Human Rights

While musicians often think in rhythms or notes and artists in perspectives or colors, I have potential syllabi rattling in my head. My medium is neither canvas nor score but rather the weaving together of books, graphic novels, guest speakers, dense academic articles, Youtube clips and provocative films into a scaffold body of knowledge. I then title such a creation with a colon and christen it with a course number. Like musicians and artists, I too go through life trying to share and provoke the unfolding puzzles that tickle inside.

My goal when teaching is to work with students so that they start to question what seems normal or is taken for granted, and thus become fluent enough in those knowledges (note plural) that they can develop their own questions. Rather than teaching students to “master” knowledge, my aim is to urge students towards a literacy of questioning and wrestling within many languages, perspectives and mediums. This was the inspiration of my most recent course: the Framing of Social Justice: Law, Culture and Politics “Here” and “There. “Here” because too often we think of human rights and social justice as just a problem that happens “there,” rarely questioning where either “here” or “there” may be.

What’s Your Story?

By Bill Ayers

We are all refugees from our childhoods. And so we turn, among other things, to stories. To write a story, to read a story, is to be a refugee from the state of refugees. Writers and readers seek a solution to the problem that time passes, that those who have gone are gone and those who will go, which is to say every one of us, will go. For there was a moment when anything was possible. And there will be a moment when nothing is possible. But in between we can create.
~Moshin Hamid, How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

I shall create!/ If not a note, a hole/ If not an overture, a desecration.
~Gwendolyn Brooks, “Boy Breaking Glass”

Social Justice Toolbox Events

Equity Summit 2015 Host: PolicyLink Date: October 27-29, 2015 Location: Los Angeles, CA  Equity Summit 2015 will ground inclusion, justice, and prosperity in the urgent issues of today and connect them to the creativity and bold vision of the equity movement. Advocates from Ferguson to New Orleans, Minneapolis to New York, and all points in between, will be part of interactive panels, tours, and in-depth, skills-building sessions that showcase how local leaders can impact policy change. Equity Summit 2015 will forge powerful partnerships for building an equitable and prosperous nation. 2015 People of Color Conference  Host: National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Date: December 3-5 Location: Tampa, FL Details to be announced.  Welcoming Schools Campaign “Welcoming Schools offers professional development tools, lessons aligned with the Common Core State Standards, and many additional resources for elementary schools on: embracing family diversity, avoiding gender stereotyping and affirming gender, and ending bullying…

In Search of the Activist Academic

By Shayna Plaut, Contributing Editor, Human Rights

When people ask me “what do you do?” meaning “what do you do for a living?” I find I have two options for how to respond. One is to look proudly in their eyes and say, “I teach human rights to journalists!” which is true, but unfortunately this is not what I spend most of my time doing, nor does it pay my rent. The other is to look down at my boots and mumble, “I drank the academic Kool-Aid” which is also true, but leaves me unsettled; I feel like I am no longer really part of the struggle for human rights. My brains are active but my hands are clean. I’ve sold out.

Both answers feel dishonest. I don’t know how to answer – because such boxes have always been blurred. The truth is, I find it fun to hopscotch categories. But when it comes to academic work such hopscotching can be seen as a sign of immaturity and non-professionalism. Or worse, activism and attachment to an issue is an indication that you are not serious about your work; and consequently should not be taken seriously.

Having always been too academic for the activists and too activist for the academics I have spent most of my time trying to create a new understanding by straddling both worlds. I knew I was not alone…but I had a hard time understanding if there was a “we.” I knew there were people around who seemed to engage in activism in spite of their academic standing but it was harder to identify people who used their academic training and resources as part of their activism, and vice versa. Those whom I heard about and admired from a distance seemed far away and scattered – big names but not real. People whom I could read or listen to but not people with whom I could sit down and have a cup of coffee and learn with.

Emptying the White Knapsack

By Jaime Grant, Contributing Editor, Gender and Sexualities

Students of color at colleges across the country have been organizing for years to foreground their experiences of racism – raising a broad range of issues from campus life, to curriculum, to hiring practices and faculty representation of people of color. At Kalamazoo College, a growing number of students of color are raising key questions about a college’s readiness for meaningful engagement with issues of racism, while students at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Los Angeles are organizing against erasure in the wake of legal decisions against affirmative action.

Student organizing has been accompanied by seemingly endless discussions about white privilege and frequent references to Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 essay, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, a classic consciousness-raising piece about white privilege.

For many white students, this article is an eye-opener because of its analysis that white people benefit from racist structures and the racist distribution of power and resources in US society every day of our lives. Yet this article remains limited because it offers no direction for its readers after coming to this awareness.

I offer this piece as a follow-up to McIntosh.  Once we get past the idea that racism rests with a few prejudiced, hate-filled individuals and accept that all white people uphold a system of racism in our daily choices and actions, there is a lifetime of anti-racist work ahead of us.

I hope this article helps white students – and faculty, staff and administrators – consider our next, pro-active steps in dismantling racism in our communities of higher education.  And beyond – I hope this article becomes part of our toolbox in figuring out how to create the workplaces, institutions, neighborhoods and beloved communities to which we aspire.

Building a 21st Century Cultural Center

The mission of Multicultural Student Center is to collaboratively strengthen and sustain and inclusive campus where all students, particularly students of color and other historically under-served students, are engaged and can realize and authentic Wisconsin Experience. In keeping with our newly revised Mission Statement, the MSC has shifted away from a Diversity Education model and toward a Social Justice Model. PDF