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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Social justice; change more than a click away

Published: February 14, 2014
Section: Opinions

While working on campus, I dealt with a customer who ordered some food that was eligible for meals and some food that was not. His total exceeded the value of a meal, and I had to inform him of the meal’s inability to cover some items. Complaining, he sarcastically said, “This is good for social justice, isn’t it?” When I left work, I passed the famed Louis Brandeis statue. It was covered in advertisements for a club’s activity.

On Facebook, I saw numerous complaints about dining and former President Jehuda Reinharz’s salary, and both called for social justice. I was immediately confused: Social justice was used last year to justify divesting from fossil fuels. Social justice was invoked by a student for dining, and that is the only arena where Brandeis students changed the community. Social justice seems to be the outcry for all problems Brandeis faces, but it does not go any further than complaint.

Outside of dining, there has been little change to our campus. Brandeis wants to be a progressive “city on a hill,” but no one wants to build it. The apathy held by most students do not support the artificially inflated value of social justice, since complaints do not lead to action. If Brandeis wishes to remain a “social justice”-minded institution, two things must happen: The university must define what exactly social justice is, and students must step up to the bar and act to enact this ideal.

Social justice, to quote a professor friend of mine, means “whatever you want it to mean.” It is a personification of subjective and individual thinking. That is the only way possible for social justice to be supporting all causes at once. One person’s social justice is another’s pet peeve. Social justice, as well as the rise of technology, allows one to be an “activist” without being active for the cause.

On Facebook and Twitter, links to and White House petitions are shared, where one can digitially sign up to support a cause. According to literature at ’DEIS Impact’s keynote address, this is social justice—to sign a peition. Think about it. A one-time click saves the world. A one-time click can make one a lifetime activist. Sharing a link makes one a better person.

Now, there are organizations where the Internet does assist in feeding the poor and providing shelter for those without resources. I do not talk about these organizations. I believe websites such as Free Rice or Click to Give are actually bettering the world for people. Instead, I refer to the mindset behind the clicker, how and why one can be a lifetime activist by a single click. I call this mindset “inactive activism,” since one can just click it and not picket.

This “inactive activism” is abundant on this campus. There are many clubs that do not meet at all. I was part of an activist club on campus that has done nothing this academic year. The club’s president focused on the world outside of campus, and did not have enough time nor commitment to actually run the club. When meetings were eventually scheduled, there were only a few people there and those events featured free food.

For many students, it is just easier to say that they are socially minded since they occasionally attend a meeting instead of actually having the love of doing things that better the world, the alleged definition of social justice and activism on this campus. You can’t be an activist if you aren’t active and if you do not care about the cause for which you fight. If you are, the term activist has lost its meaning, and this is an example of “inactive activism.” There is not a lot of passion for “active activism” on this campus, unless Sodexo is the opponent in the fight.

Dining is the only area I can see that promoted “active activism” and passion in the students. As with other causes at Brandeis, students constantly complained. Yet students followed through on these complaints and were able to witness the fruits of their labor. The Senate Dining Committee is more transparent than other similar groups, and it accomplishes more things.

Sodexo has changed from the beginning of the year. If one percent of the passion and attention dining got this year was applied to a local food kitchen, I would not be writing this. But since student “inactive activists” do not put their ideals into action, why do we even consider ourselves a social justice community in the first place?

If we want to consider ourselves a social justice school, despite the individualistic mindset behind that phrase, we need to step up and off this campus. We need to volunteer and not just click links and sign digital petitions to end world hunger or redistribute Jehuda Reinharz’s income. We need to not sit by passively. We need to take up a cause and be active in it. Stop complaining and start explaining. If we actually give teeth to the phrase “social justice” by defining it and then acting on it, we can make Brandeis a world-renowned place, instead of being known as the school with the castle, where “Friends” was first conceived, or as that school where a turkey flew into a student’s dorm window.