Social justice on college campuses


Melissa NunezOpinions and Features Editor

When students enter their college years they become synonymous with many things: scholars, critical thinkers, the future. Tacked with these roles, these scholars, these critical thinkers begin to fight for just that, their future and throughout generations many college students have gained notoriety for revolts and campaigns to better their tomorrow.

According to Vanity Fair, protests, such as ones held in 1960 at Atlanta University, where Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leaders, and students staged marches and sit-ins to end segregation. Ones like Emma Sulkowicz’s protest in 2013 against Columbia University’s disregard to a rape she reported in 2013 as a sophomore so, in response, Sulkowicz carried her mattress everywhere, including to her graduation.

But for many the question still remains, how critical are social justice movements on university campuses?

Before Southern students rushed home to their families and loved ones to gives thanks and devour some well-deserved turkey on their Thanksgiving holiday, many may have taken part in the university’s Social Justice Week. According to Tracy Tyree, the vice president of student affairs and one of Southern’s Social Justice Week’s organizers, the program has run annually over the past three years and featured events designed by students and faculty.

Tyree said while ideally every student would participate, the program’s attendance has become more significant with each passing year. She said the events vary in theme, from environmental and sustainability discussions to panels discussing race and religion.

“When I think about the mission in terms of being a regional public university, we serve a community and that is really important,” said Tyree. “Something like [over 90 percent] of our students come from Connecticut. So this idea that students are coming from our communities, they are in large majority going to go back into our communities and as this regional public institution and serving this part of the state of Connecticut, I think that we have an obligation to prepare our students to go out and make a difference in their community when they graduate and part of that is them making a difference while they are here because it is experiential learning. They are learning through action and then, ideally, embracing the things that they feel most passionately about; that they want to make a difference in the world and they will go on upon graduation and continue that commitment.”

Like Tyree, I cannot help but share the same sentiment, as higher educational institutions, universities have been charged with preparing their students with the knowledge and the tools to build better futures and to leave the world a little better than they have found it.

As such, Universities need to encourage students when they use their voices and elevate them, because these are the adults on the precipice of the rest of their lives. Many of them work, maintain homes, jobs, families and these worlds help them perceive their environments as something that may or may not be working for them. And if that is the case, if they are expected to participate in building a better tomorrow, with the backing of their university, the university that saw their potential upon accepting them, they should have faith in these young adults and their voices.

So do I believe social justice has an important role on universities? I believe it has and always will.

Photo Credit: Palmer Piana

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