Social Justice Summit might be perpetuating privilege

The University of Florida will not pay speakers for its annual Social Justice Summit, even though many in the field consider the practice economically unjust.

The summit, set for January 2018, seeks to help “create a society that is equitable and inclusive, where all members can be physically and psychologically safe,” according to a recent call for proposals.

However, accepted presenters will not be paid for their labor, and while attention to “economic needs” remains a key focus of the conference’s agenda, speakers will be “responsible for all expenses including, but not limited to, travel, lodging, and transportation.”

[RELATED: University offers students funding for social justice projects]

In fact, conference organizers explicitly state that their “demands are that all people—regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income, gender/gender identity, language, national origin, worldview (religion, spirituality, and other values), physical or mental disability, or education—have a right to basic human dignity and to have their basic economic needs met.”

Yet the only compensation for accepted proposals will be in the form of a waived conference entrance fee, which has yet to be determined.

Social justice-minded academics, notably, have often lamented the lack of compensation provided for speakers at such events, with researcher Laura LeMoon recently arguing that the high costs and low financial assistance of social justice conferences leads to “the preservation of privilege in social justice activism.”

[RELATED: University paying students to be ‘social justice advocates’]

LeMoon, who explains that she frequently is invited to speak at conferences without payment, argues that the practice is exclusionary of people from low-income backgrounds.

“In social justice activism, being heard it is still a privilege not afforded everyone and money is still a huge factor determining how much someone can participate in these grander conversations around social justice,” she writes, asking conference organizers to “stop facilitating standards for participation in social justice activism that favor those who are the most privileged in society.”

Similarly, Professor Michelle Mazur argued in an open letter to conference organizers that “exposure” is not a legitimate form of compensation.

[RELATED: College offers free training on how to be a ‘social justice ally]

“I doubt you are paying the caterers, the AV team, and the marketing team with ‘exposure.’ Being professionals, they would laugh and hang up the phone if you offered them ‘exposure’ in exchange for their services,” Mazur wrote, noting that speakers “can’t pay rent with exposure, buy food with exposure, or pay for your kid’s ballet lesson with exposure.

Campus Reform reached out to the university for comment, but it declined, explaining that the conference is still in its planning stages.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen