Southern kicks off Social Justice Month


Josh LaBellaNews Writer

Southern Connecticut State University decided that when it came to social justice, a week just was not enough. This year the celebration has been stretched to the entire month of November.

Joe Bertolino, President of SCSU, said he provided funding for the lengthening because, given what’s going on in the country, he thinks it’s important to remind students that they’ve come to an institution that values dignity, respect, kindness, compassion and civility. He said he wants Southern to be a safe environment for all students, regardless of their world view.

“I want us to be role models,” said Bertolino, “and I want us to be the social justice university of the state of Connecticut. My goal is to expand those efforts.”

Bertolino said the initial step for pursuing that goal is acknowledging the school’s commitment as an institution and that needs to come from him. He said then it needs to be modelled from the administration and a message needs to be sent throughout the entire institution.

“Then we need to provide resources and opportunities for individuals to talk about how we make the institution a better place,” said Bertolino, “with an emphasis on social justice. I think our investment in a month of social justice is a start. I hope it’s the tip of the iceberg and that will eventually lead to broader conversations, enhanced services and a broader curriculum that talks about issues of social justice.”

Bertolino said you can measure the success of that goal in a couple of ways. He said one is an increase in the number of students from underrepresented groups attending the university, which is already happening. Secondly, he said another measurable piece of that objective is a rise in the number of partnerships Southern has with the surrounding community.

“In particular, aspiration to college for young people from underrepresented groups in the wards and communities that surround the university,” said Bertolino. “Right now, we are surrounded by communities that are primarily individuals of color and lower socioeconomic status that do not aspire to college or university. I want folks to be able to know that we’re right in their backyard and they can and should aspire to come to a place like Southern that will help them be successful.”

According to Bertolino, social justice is the difference between equality and equity. He said equality means that everyone gets the same thing and is treated in the same way. Equity, he said, is when they help someone achieve their goal by giving them more opportunity and what they need – accepting them for where they are so that it creates a level playing field.

Niki Nash, a doctoral student in the leadership program, said to her social justice means equity, both socially and culturally. She said it’s about having opportunities and rights that should be given to all. She said she feels Southern supports those goals.

“There’s organizations that on campus that promote social justice,” said Nash. “I came here for my 6th year degree as well and I don’t remember there being as many social organizations. I think that there is a clear recognition that the landscape is changing – that there are more varied types of people coming to school and there’s a need to meet the needs of all of them.”

Weens Simone, a junior finance major, said social justice means everybody being treated fairly, no matter where they come from, their culture or beliefs. He said Southern is pretty good at supporting that message.

“I’ve been here, this is my third year,” said Simone, “and I think everyone here is pretty friendly and accepting. The administration and the professors definitely support social justice.”

Photo Credit: Josh LaBella

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