ISU 'Social Justice Summit' ponders privilege, advocates activism

Iowa State University recently held a “Social Justice Summit” in an effort to “create strategies for implementing social change.”

The summit was guided by staff members from the Student Activities Center, the Department of Residence, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, the Margaret Sloss Women's Center, and faculty from the Social Justice Certificate in the School of Education.

In addition to being “able to articulate concepts and terminology related to social justice,” ISU expects participants to come away from the summit with the ability to “recognize their own...privilege, power, and oppression” and articulate how those concepts “operate within the [ISU] community and larger society.”

Following from those objectives, the school also expects that participants will be able to “explain how they will incorporate learning from the Summit into their daily lives.”

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In the opening segments of the summit, students were encouraged to realize their privileges and disadvantages with respect to race, gender, and mental health issues, after which there were two events focused on strategies for discussing racism and feminism, according to the Iowa State Daily.

Later, the conversation shifted toward activism, with several sessions advising students on how to build and maintain effective protest movements.

Nick Johnson, an Iowa State political science student, told Campus Reform that he considered the Social Justice Summit a divisive experience, saying the programming frequently made him feel alienated and uncomfortable.

“None of us chose our race,” Johnson pointed out. “I've experienced no privilege in my life…I’m paying for college on my own and had a hard childhood, so I don't understand how someone can say I have white privilege.”

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Ashley Dorris, the leadership and service program coordinator for the Student Activities Center, offered a very different interpretation, saying the Summit was valuable for students and explicitly rejecting the notion that the program was in any way politically polarizing.

“I think it is unique (and necessary) because there are not many programs across campus that bring a group together to have these conversations while also building community with one another,” she asserted. “This program does not focus on pushing a specific political agenda or creating division amongst participants. The main focus is awareness and open dialogue across difference.”

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