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Social justice award created

The Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize, which was created by President Raynard Kington in conjunction with a small committee of advisees, was announced to the Grinnell College community this Monday, Nov. 1 in a campus-wide email.

“It’s an opportunity for Grinnell College to, I’d say, honor our third basic core value, which is social responsibility, and to punctuate and highlight some of the social justice work that is being done in this country and around the world,” said Dean of Religious Life Deanna Shorb.

The prize will be awarded annually to between one and three people who are under the age of 40. The recipients of this unique prize, who will be chosen by a selection committee that has yet to be determined, will receive an award of $100,000, $50,000 of which will be appropriated to an organization that supports the recipient’s specific social justice work. While the nominees for this prize must all demonstrate a clear commitment to pursuing social justice, the context in which they have done so is intentionally unspecified in order to encourage a diverse pool of nominees.

According to Doug Cutchins, Director of Social Commitment, the award applies to a broad range of people by design.

“We want to encourage people from all different fields, all different walks of life, and all different types of innovations to be nominated and to be considered for this,” Cutchins said. “We really want the whole range of the human experience to be represented in this award.”

As the mission of this prize is deeply rooted in Grinnell’s core values of social justice and interdisciplinary work, its results will be similarly tied to the College campus and community.

“This is not just ‘here is your check, come give one speech and then leave,’” said Cutchins.

Rather, after the winners are announced in May of 2011, they will likely be featured in a Rosenfield symposium the following October—providing the campus with the opportunity to meet and interact with the recipients. Other possibilities of means of involving the prize recipients with the student body include the development of internships with their organizations and the creation of short courses that these young innovators will teach.

According to Cutchins, there are multiple advantages to having the award earners visit campus.

“We want students to see and meet and be inspired by the work of these people who are not that much older than [them] and to see that this is where the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years of your life can take you,” Cutchins said. “You don’t need to be 50 years old to change the world … you can do this soon after you graduate.”

In spite of this prize’s objective to publically affirm Grinnell’s commitment to social justice and to provide students with examples of the varied forms that social justice can take, so that “when people say Grinnell they may immediately think social justice,” said Cutchins, some students have expressed skepticism about this initiative’s priorities.

“Anytime we talk about wanting any kind of institutional change, [the administration’s] argument is always that they do not have the money to fund things like AJust and to hire staff for the SRC, yet they have the money to hire someone to administer an award,” said Hannah Sagin ’12.  “I’m most frustrated by what I feel would be the most logical intent behind this…to create a good public image as a socially just institution rather than creating social justice.

Another student finds the timing especially troublesome.

“We are in an economic crisis but we are putting money into a program for people who aren’t current students. That does not make sense to me,”  Katey Gager ’11 said.

While this prize raises questions about the status of social justice in Grinnell and the appropriation of funds to student groups, the administration asserts that acknowledging social justice within other communities will not detract from the attention paid to it on campus.

“I think that being visionary about how Grinnell moves forward to support social justice on this campus and in this world do not have to be mutually exclusive. Grinnell can do both, support groups on campus, say no to acts of hate and bias motivated incidents and support the work outside of Grinnell,” Shorb said.

Cutchins agrees that Grinnell can work towards social justice on multiple fronts.

“This is not a binary choice. We need to do both. [This] doesn’t mean that we can’t and won’t and shouldn’t address issues of social justice on our own campus…But I think that this award plays a very important role in helping create the vision of what this college can and should and will be,” Cutchins said.

The project is still under development and is expected to evolve as details are solidified. While SGA and the Board of Trustees were consulted about this prize prior to it being made official, students and community members are encouraged to contribute their feedback and ideas.

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  • M

    Michael SchoelzSep 18, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Dor, You’re probably just trolling but for the record, since we’re a private college, we get to decide what we’re doing with our money and who we support. We awarded three programs and four individuals with the prize, which you can read about here. I encourage you to look into the programs that received the prize.

  • D

    DorSep 17, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Your should not be pushing your values upon someone else. Social justice is all about redistribution of wealth. The rich have earned it and worked hard. to you guys who are promoting this. How would you like one day if you worked your but off to make money then one day someone else came in and just took it with the blink of an eye? This college is a disgrace for offering something like this.

  • J

    JimNov 9, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Nice work if you can get it, be should an educational institution be spending tuition dollars like this? Is this a college with an endowment, or an endowment with a college?