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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Looking for possibilities of social movements

Published: March 28, 2014
Section: Opinions

Brandeis has become a campus more than fairly involved in social justice. With that in mind, I thought about how exactly social justice is conveyed throughout campus. Just the other day, someone knocked on my door with a message of one of many groups on campus. This particular student was going door to door informing their fellow Brandeisians of the divestment campaign. Their intent is to encourage the school, as described on their flyers, “to remove its investments from fossil fuel companies … [as part of] a national movement with campaigns at over 300 schools pushing for divestment and nine already divested …” This brief encounter encouraged me to take even a closer look at another group here at Brandeis.

A couple of weekends ago, Posse scholars came together at a retreat. This year’s event pertained to social movements, a concept aligned with Brandeis’ mantra of social justice. I spoke to a few students who attended. After some icebreakers, the group delved into topics related to their theme “Social Movements of the 21st Century.” By Sunday night, they had looked at social movements over the span of history, even tightening that focus to the issues here on campus. With that in mind, they made up a list of what they considered priorities of Brandeis. This committee of students came up with a list that included things such as leadership, school spirit, integration, rape awareness, cross-cultural education and racism consciousness. As the Posse retreat exhibited by making a list, knowing what the issues are is a good place to begin. You can’t build something if you don’t know where to lay the foundation. They cannot expect to change anything for the sake of social justice unless they know what they want to change.

This list led to an experience of realization for many. One student, Alleah Salone ’17, told me about a particular activity where they used a few prompts such as “critical and urgent,” “critical but not urgent” and “something that can wait.” Each participant had to determine the urgency and importance of each listed item. One that stuck out for Salone was “school spirit.” She was relieved to see others agree with her on the fact that it is “critical but not urgent.” As she explained it, “I’m from the South, and I’m used to going all out.” She recognized that lacking eagerness did not just pertain to athletics but even to attending theater productions. “We should be spirited and proud to be here. I wish I knew how to do something,” she concluded. This begs the question, if so many are aware of this as an issue, why was it not addressed yet?

A weekend full of discussion can be empowering, and as one of the attendees summarized it, a “catalyst.” They did not draw out plans or make a sequential list of how to fix everything. Instead the Posse retreat, as I understood it, expanded the consciousness of social issues of these students and of the few invited faculty who attended. It was a setting where these individuals could be inspired to make a change. Nevertheless, I do not think it is enough.

As students, a majority of our time is learning and talking about what we learned. The Posse retreat was a fantastic outlet for a set of specific issues in the social realm. But just like any other discussion in a classroom, sometimes nothing goes beyond the classroom. When someone takes a class in their major, they are planning on using what they learn in the classroom. They have concrete plans to do something with what they learned. Are people from the Posse retreat or any other group involved with social movement going to do the same thing as that student taking a class in their major? I want to know if that “catalyst” will produce something or not. Talking to Salone, I knew she really wanted to make a change, gushing about how inspired the Posse retreat was. Nevertheless, even she admitted, “I am just a freshman, so I wonder if my voice matters … I went there to listen and learn.” She went on to say she’d be more inclined to help and do something more if she had a guide of some sort.

Awareness of the issues is step one, and that is one of the things the Posse retreat addressed. Nonetheless, it is hard to tackle such big problems when we keep waiting for others to start it out for us. It may be easier to just join a group already established in cross-cultural education or integration than start one. That is no excuse, though. At this point, we are bystanders, knowing the issues, but not doing anything about it, waiting for someone else to do something. Well, not all of us. I did have that one student who knocked on my door just a couple of days ago.