Virtual forum held to discuss social justice

Ellis McGinleyCopy Editor

On Thursday, Sept. 17, the university held its “From Talk to Activism” virtual forum, which Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Diane Ariza said she hopes will be the first of a “continuous series around anti-racism and anti-oppression.”

The panel featured eight students and alumni, moderated by Ariza.

Its mission was to allow community members to “hear how Southern students and alumni are leading racial justice efforts and [draw] attention to the need for structural changes,” according to an infographic sent to students and faculty about a week before the event.

“Anti-racism isn’t just this badge you get the top on your shirt,” said communications major Jamil Harp, a senior.

“It’s a commitment to dismantling racism from our social structures, from our institutions. We have to look at our local neighborhoods, our local systems.”

“Root word act,” Simonie Davies, a 2019 social work graduate, said in her response to the first question: what it means to be anti-racist and an activist for change.

“You have to be actively involved in learning different issues that might not directly affect you, but it affects the people in your community.”

Davies’ answer followed Johnathan Gonzalez, a 2018 economics graduate who shared his experience growing up as an immigrant in a predominantly white North Haven neighborhood, and Shanté Hanks, alum and Deputy Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Housing, sharing her experience as well.

In her reply, Hanks said “sharing and liking does not make you an activist,” referencing recent upticks in social media activity regarding Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist movements.

“To be anti-racist you have to be intentional,” she said. “My suggestion is a quick social experiment. Have you been told by even one person their experience with mistreatment, abuse, bias due to their race?

If you have not had even one conversation with a person of color, especially an African American, that means you have been complicit.”

Other questions posed to the panelists included what the climate around activism feels like, how that climate has evolved following recent Black Lives Matter protests, how to approach structural change within institutions and also how institutions can make hiring processes more inclusive.

The forum also included Jane Marlor, president of the Cultural Competence Club, Sasha Chandola, a junior theatre major, and Niah Mesidor, a freshman athlete and SAAP member.

A recording of the full forum is available to watch and listen to on the university’s official Facebook and YouTube profiles.

Panelists were also asked to reflect on their time at the university and the activism they have either seen or not seen while on campus.

“I see activism here at Southern every day in many forms,” said psychology major Jazmyn Martinez, a junior softball player.

Speaking as a student athlete, though, she said her experience has not always been the same.

Martinez also is a part of the Athletes Fighting Injustice group.

“You know, we have athletes who feel that if they speak up, they won’t be heard,” said Martinez, “And if they are speaking up, they find that often people around them are silent.”

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