Symposium to Bring Social Justice Questions to Campus

By Lily Jamaludin 

jamaludi@grinnell.edu

The words “social justice” may be getting old to some Grinnellians who feel that the term, propagated in admissions material and College press releases, has lost its meaning. The question this raises, “What is Social Justice?” will be the topic of the next Rosenfield Symposium, taking place Sept. 13-15.

Sarah Purcell, Director of the Rosenfield Program, hopes that the program will provide context to better understand social justice, as well as raising discussions.

“I’m interested in Grinnellians deciding for themselves what social justice is,” Purcell said. “This is a chance to take a step back and think about the concept.”

The symposium will begin on Wednesday, opening with a panel of Grinnell faculty members discussing social justice from interdisciplinary and personal points of view. J. Montgomery Roper, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Global Development Studies concentration, will be on the panel, addressing justice issues from an international perspective.

“I am moved by global poverty and inequality—by the fact that there are a billion people in the world living on less than $1 per day, and 10,000,000 […] children die every year from preventable poverty-related causes,” Roper said. “Meanwhile, those of us in rich countries are consuming the vast majority of the world’s resources and turning our backs on the social and environmental consequences.”

A variety of impressive qualifications categorize the symposium speakers. Edward Hailes will draw on his experience as a civil rights attorney, former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) administrator and Southern Baptist pastor. He will speak on the theme of a “just” democracy. Bread and Puppet, a politically radical theater company known for their participation in anti-war protests during the Vietnam War, will have a performance on Wednesday.

“We focused on bringing a mixture of people who study social justice from an academic lens … as well as people who are practitioners [and] do hands-on social justice work,” Purcell said.

Sara Gould, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Philanthropies Foundation Center will run a registration-only hands-on workshop about managing a social justice organization. Speaking on social justice from an academic perspective on Thursday are Kristin Kalsem, Professor of Law at the University of Cincinnati and David Estlund, Professor and Department Chair of Brown University’s Philosophy department.

President of the College Raynard Kington will also play a role in the symposium as he gives the College’s opening Scholar’s Convocation. In light of the College’s pursuit of social justice as a larger goal, Kington will discuss the role of the institution in advancing social change.

“We are not inherently an organization dedicated to any social movement,” Kington said. “What we’re dedicated to is educating young people who will have the skills, the knowledge and the perspective to go out and become engaged, thoughtful citizens.”

Between the Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize and the addition of a full-time Community Service Coordinator, the College’s emphasis on social justice seems to be increasing. The symposium is aptly scheduled to take advantage of this movement and help all Grinnellians reflect on social justice.

“I like the increased emphasis and the [College’s] challenge to live up to the [social justice] identity. I think that we have long been headed in the right direction, but my sense is that the path we are on today is a more direct one than the one we were on in the past,” Roper said. “I hope we can find even better paths. I think it is a journey, not a destination.”