Social Justice Summit

Went to a Social Justice Social Policy Summit today.

It was really interesting. Some ideas expressed were oldies but still unanswered, and some insights made me pause and think:

– In what ways can we foster a culture of Social Justice on campus?
– Many people at the summit talked about a need for mentorship – it’s rather sad that there is such a need at a college, of all places.
– In the past, the “social justice inclined” students were concentrated in a few departments and took the same classes, so that they were able to interact at a high level. Example – this lead to the Click Drive in the era of Ben Brandzel (and Andrew Slack)
– We need institutional memory . Why don’t alums who are working for Social Justice today come back and talk to us?
– During the heroic era of the civil rights movement, Brandeis had a sort of fellowship program where people in the movement came to Brandeis for a year and mingled as graduate students. That worked really well.

I’ve often talked about my idea of Brandeis as an experiment in social entrepreneurship. We successfully destroyed the institution of quotas in college admissions through establishing the University. With that done, we have and will and should serve as an academy for the next wave of leaders for Social Justice and Social Change.

We’re not really doing that well at preparing the next generation to carry the torch forward. There’s a lot of demand for that – witness all the Social Justice organizations on campus. Yet we can do so much more than lumping together a bunch of likeminded students at a University and expecting them to emerge ready to act from the crucible. We can correct the isolation and balkanization of clubs, sure. We can create the sort of classes that all of the like-minded people can take at once so that they interact in the classroom – the Social Justice Social Policy minor is trying to do that. Yet, we must go further than working with Brandeis-only students for just four years.

To become a true center for Social Justice, Brandies must look inward. At the summit, people proposed classes to examine incidents on campus – Hindley, Palestinian art, etc – and both how they related to Social Justice and how they were handled. Others spoke of a leadership training course, or one focusing on organizations, movements, and how they were handled. Jamie Ansorge, Director of Communications for the Student Union, used the example of Jason Gray, the current Student Union President. Jason studied the institutional workings, pressures, power centers, veto points, and power relations of the Student Union for a Heller School class. He’s used that knowledge to run a very impressive Student Union Government this year.

Yet, even more importantly, Brandeis must reach outward. We’ve already spoken of setting up mentorships and relationships with alums, or even just retaining institutional memory. Professor Cunningham (apparently the chair of SJSP) talked about his work in Mississippi, and how everyone connected to the civil rights movement knew aof Brandeis – either they had been to a summit there, or been trained there, or fellows there, or met someone from Brandeis, etc. We need to re-engage the outside world. We need to both learn from those who have come before and support the SNCC’s of our day.

As you may know, I’m a Computer Science Major (prospective). Over the last summer, I put some thought into startups. Why does MIT have a culture of creating small businesses? What fosters that culture? Is it the examples of people who have done it before? Professors encouraging that sort of work? Is there a “how to make a startup” class or office? I don’t really know, but I wish I did.

Brandeis should create a culture of community organizing and “activist startups”/social entrepreneurship. We have the examples of prominent students who’ve done that already. Justin Kang and the crew at LiveCampus, Allyson Goldsmith and ELEVEate, Ben Brandzel and the Collegiate Click Drive, Aaron Voldman and the Student Peace Alliance, the list goes on. We have a few institutions dedicated to social justice, such as the ethics center, or the SJSP program, but as far as I can tell they focus more on the atomistic student rather than a networked group. We should find that “special sauce” and bring it back here.

There were a lot of ideas at the meeting and I hope more comes of out it. For now, you’ll all be pleased to know that the SJSP program is going to give out grants for events that promote a fusion of social justice action and academics. Due date for submissions in mid-late January. With the Ethics Center funding and BPA funding as well, there seems to be the financial room, at least, for an expanded presence for these sorts of events in the future.