Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Social justice education

The first social justice minor class I took nearly made me quit the official social justice education. I seriously contemplated not declaring the social justice minor, and I actually didn’t until a few months ago. Maybe it was the teacher or the class, but something really didn’t seem right. Months into this class that I had expected so much from and my classmates were still in denial of white privilege. I was absolutely shocked. How could a class with the title, “Introduction to Social Justice,” skip simple definitions and an essential discussion on privilege? While the class wasn’t totally worthless, (I was able to read some books and learn about a few authors that I hadn’t heard about before), I did leave that class rethinking if I wanted to continue with the minor, but thank goodness that I did.

My first experience with an education focused primarily on social justice was disappointing, but a good reminder that I have to make the best of every situation and if I don’t like something, speak up. I didn’t really speak up much in that class, which was a first, because in a class that is focused on something that I am so passionate about, one would think that I had a lot to say, but I didn’t feel comfortable or like everyone was on the same page. Of course, it is not feasible that everyone be in the exact place as the person next to them in terms of where they are in their own personal social justice journey, but the classroom politics got to be too strained for my liking and unfortunately, I checked out after a while.

My second social justice class was amazing and I felt critically challenged which is how I grow the most. My teacher was unconventional – which totally makes sense for a social justice minor – and she gave us the space and time to get our stuff done. I felt like an adult and really took charge of my education, at times it was really stressful because I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, but by the end, I realized that the rewards was that I intrinsically learned about what I was most passionate about and I had done by best on my final project.

Activism? Now what?

I wouldn’t consider myself a veteran activist by any means, and I wish that I could say that I was more experienced, but after doing three years of service learning for a different organization each time, I just feel like I haven’t accomplished anything.

In fact, I am pretty I got more out of the volunteer work that I did on my own, than doing service learning that was required for a class. After reading Ivan Illich’s article, “To Hell With Good Intentions,” my social justice senior seminar class deconstructed service learning into a model of “us vs. them,” but yet we still are participating in the service learning part of the class, after the one class discussion about our volunteering at various nonprofit organizations, I still feel like we didn’t reach a conclusion in whole deal. We talked about how we needed to be mindful of the “us vs. them” way of thinking and our privilege as college students to go into an organization, serve for a semester and then check out, no strings attached, obligation free; but after that, we were done ready to move on.

Sometimes I feel disconnected from the word activism, because I’m not marching and shouting, or chaining myself to something in protest. One major reason why I feel so conflicted about the word “activist” is because I feel like my journalism major has really contributed to this internal ethical and moral conflict that I really struggled with for several years. I still am uneasy about my role as a journalist, and how I feel about the journalism commandment to be objective, but I think as time goes on, I move away from journalism and more towards social justice – and I am at peace with that.

The School of Journalism at the University of Minnesota has been a place where I have learned a lot of about the history of the media and the role it has had in the formation of ideas and opinions, so I’m not really sure why the need to objective and inactive has always been the rule of the house. The way I justify my activism is that for so long, one side has been presented and now, it’s not just a matter of being balanced or objective, it’s simply presenting the other side. Here I am thinking about the other side of justice for Palestine, in-group prejudice and oppression. After the other side hasn’t been given a voice, I still struggle with the feelings that I should take a side in the first place.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Reflections on social justice

I have always had strong thoughts and feelings about violence against women, women’s rights, racism and oppression, among others, but I didn’t really label myself as an activist or a feminist until my sophomore year in college.

The lack of my social justice awareness during those crucial times of when I was a teenager is definitely something that I regret. I wish that I was able to use those four years of high school to be more productive and join a G.S.A., a multicultural group, or create a space where I could talk about homophobia and racism with my peers, but instead I tried to tip-toe around these uncomfortable subjects – well, no more.

Now, I talk about privilege and social justice all the time. I thrive in bringing up these uncomfortable conversations and learning more about what my peers think and refining my thoughts by bouncing them off others in debates or discussions.
After four years of learning and evolving, and with 3pm on May 17th, creeping up on me the question is asked: “So now what? What are you going to do?” I don’t have an answer, and I’m not really looking for one. Right now I’m just trying to figure out what I need to get out of the last few moments of my undergraduate experience and what I want to do, what I am passionate about, what my hopes and dreams are.

I do see myself of a 21st century movement for social justice. I just have to figure out what exactly I see myself doing and figure out the agency by which I go about doing whatever that is. I would love to take the opportunity to use my photography for social justice and my journalism skills to encourage folks to talk about race and not pretend that they are colorblind.

Most of my peers in the journalism field are white and most of the notable photographers are white and male, so where does that leave me? I am going to have to fight to have a place at the table, and then if and when I get accepted, I’ll have to continually justify what I do and how I do it so that my peers can respect me-- that way I can get paid, get credit, attain security and stability in life and live happily ever after. Sometimes I wish I was 30 and had everything figured out, I feel like I have no idea where I am going in life right now, and it’s really hard for me to write an activist essay, much less an autobiography.

I am still trying to make sense of the pieces of events and experiences that make up my life. Maybe this uncomfortable unknowingness is all part of growing up and maybe will be a foreign concept when I’m 30, but what if, in seven or so years, when I remember how old I am (actually, at this moment, I do not remember how old I am. I stopped counting when I turned 21), whatever shall I do if I haven’t figured life out? Whatever I am doing, I hope that I have a deeper, richer passion for social justice, and I hope that I am not burned out or disillusioned, disenchanted or disenfranchised by the social justice activism movement.

Intro to my social justice journey

My social justice activism journey didn’t start until I was a first year student at the University of Minnesota. Before then, I knew how I felt about racism, social injustice, and privilege, but I didn’t have terminology or education to back up my feelings and I didn’t really have the words to make complete thoughts about how I felt.

My family is socially conservative and usually votes Republican; I labeled myself as a moderate during high school and my first year in college because for those years I wanted to act and pass as white as I could. My goal was to fit in and to try and be seen by my peers to be just like them, all the while knowing that it was impossible because I was so dark and would never be able to pass.

I didn’t identify with Democratic candidates because I didn’t fully understand where they were coming from and I didn’t want to be lumped in with what my friend Andrew told me in our AP Psychology class, “Bethany, all minorities vote for Democrats.” Back then I’d rather vote Republican and (hopefully) be seen as a part of the majority and as elitist, rather than vote for a Democrat and be a minority.