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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Panel discusses incorporating social justice into careers

Published: February 14, 2013
Section: News

Students, scholars and alumni gathered in Hassenfeld Conference Center on Monday evening for Brandeis’ 2nd annual SoJust Leadership Forum, thereby concluding ’Deis Impact, the weeklong “festival of social justice.”

Sponsored by the Hiatt Career Center and in partnership with the SoJust Leadership committee, the forum brought together mostly alumni who have applied what they learned about social justice to their everyday work. More than 30 representatives from non-profit organizations, corporations and fellowships spoke with students about the power of social justice in their work and steps that students can be taking now to have a successful and meaningful career.

Sam Vaghar ’08 spoke about the power of social justice on his life beginning at 19 years old, when he decided to read two books, “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder and “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs.

“Take a risk for what you believe in most,” he said. “Social justice means having a vision.”

After reading Sachs’ book, Vaghar picked up the phone and called Sachs. Before he knew it, he was meeting with Sachs’ team in New York City, discussing his vision for a national network for global poverty. Two years later, Vaghar proposed that his coalition receive about a few thousand dollars, but instead, his organization was granted $30,000.

“Too many times we settle. When I was 18 or 19, my goal was to get into politics. It still is, but I’ve realized that to be honest, none of that matters,” Vaghar said. “The most important thing is to have a vision.”

The first part of the forum was a panel represented by five individuals, all of whom have strong ties to Brandeis and have shown a commitment to social justice in their work. Professor David Cunningham (SOC), Chair of Brandeis’ Social Justice and Social Policy Program, moderated the panel.

Sarah Emond M.P.P. ’09, shared that social justice, to her, meant a commitment to a quality. In her time at Heller, she spoke about how she learned about the finite time we have to take action. Emond also shared that it wasn’t until much later that she found her vision.

“Finding my vision came in graduate school. Let yourself off the hook if you don’t find your vision until later,” Emond said.

Jodi Rosenbaum, not a Brandeis alumna but a woman whose non-profit is situated in Waltham, spoke about her time at school as helping her find her passion.

“The foundation I run now, More Than Words (MTW), was forged when I was a junior in college. I had an internship in a child advocacy office for the state department,” Rosenbaum said. “They were so reliant on me, the intern, that I could tell how little they actually emphasized their motto of having a holistic approach.”

Rosenbaum spoke about meeting kids in foster care one day, and the next day meeting them in the courthouse. Her work with the juvenile court turned into her writing her senior thesis, and eventually working there even longer than she had expected.

“It just goes to show you that you shouldn’t underestimate the power of an internship,” Rosenbaum said.

Additionally, Rosenbaum spoke about the effect of her work on her personal life.

“Right now, my vision is learning how to be a good mom. As you think about what you want for your whole life, you need to learn there is a difference between working and being effective.”

Other panelists spoke to students about the various skills needed for their careers as well as the relationships they have formed in making a difference.

Ronald Glover ’73 said that it was the interactions he had with his fellow peers and professors at Brandeis that completely changed him. He said that what he ultimately gained from his experience at Brandeis was learning how to interact with people who had completely opposing viewpoints with him.

In his senior year, he was partnered with a professor to write his senior thesis that had a completely opposite viewpoint from him.

“He challenged me to challenge my assumptions. I will never forget him saying to me, ‘You better learn to listen and think.’ That advice was invaluable,” Glover said.

State Representative Tackey Chan ’95 added that there are certain skills necessary to do meaningful and powerful work.

“First, you must have intelligence. Second, you can’t socially interact unless you have social context. You are going to have to learn to pick up little things along the way.”

Following the panel, students joined representatives for a mini-networking session. Representatives included young alumni, executive directors, CEOs, co-founders and many others ranging from The Harry Potter Alliance to JP Morgan, City Year, Mass General Hospital and more.

Many students attended the forum as a way to learn more about how to apply social justice in the workplace in addition to making connections and networking.

Senior Reed Zuckerman ’13 said that although he didn’t meet anyone specifically that he was interested in working for, he met a number of alumni who spoke openly about continuing a conversation with him to help him with his job application process.

“The forum was a great place to introduce yourself to alumni and pioneers in various fields who have incorporated social justice into their careers. Just conversing and meeting with all of the representatives that attended the forum allowed me to gain a lot of helpful information and guidance about the job application process after Brandeis,” Zuckerman said. “I learned a lot about how to incorporate the value of social justice in the workplace and how to make myself stand out amongst other applicants in terms of my cover letter and resume.”

The SoJust forum was intended to be a place for a conversation about the importance of social justice.

“Activism at its most fundamental is completely personal,” Vaghar said. “Change starts in our personal lives.”