Students at UC Berkeley know that a history of our university would be woefully incomplete if it didn’t mention Cal students’ longstanding engagement with issues of social justice. We are reminded of past victories every time we refuel at the Free Speech Movement café. Ongoing protests and open letters to campus leaders remind us of the dialogue that many of us are still part of today.
Last week, students in Berkeley Connect Ethnic Studies & African American Studies took time to explore personal experiences with social justice issues in and out of the classroom. Although cautious at first, the students quickly got comfortable and began sharing.
Berkeley Connect mentor Selina Makana started the discussion with the simple question, “What do we mean by social justice?” Students had a variety of responses, from “working to undo social injustices embedded in institutions” to “empathy for others’ well-being and their state of mind.” Students discussed the meaning behind “intersectionality” (“it’s more than just a buzz word!”) before breaking into smaller groups to talk about ways that they personally engage in social justice.
Some students shared experiences of the organizations that they take part in—from Black Lives Matter to the Womxn Empowerment Club. Other students who are not members of specific groups shared the ways that they try to make a difference on an individual level. “Instead of displays of protest, I prefer getting more personal and sitting down one-on-one with someone if they make a racist or insensitive comment. I think this can help better get through to someone rather than calling them out in public. I try and create my own personal space for social justice.”
Another student talked about her own experiences in the classroom. She described feeling as if she didn’t belong in a class due to the subject matter and occasionally discriminatory comments made by the faculty member. “Should I have stayed silent in that class? What should I have done in that moment?” Another student who had been in similar situations offered the following advice: “Something that I feel is effective is asking the professor to clarify his or her statements. This way, it gives them time to rethink their previous comments, or they are forced to admit their bias again in front of the class.”
Students in Berkeley Connect Ethnic Studies & African American Studies are clearly living up to the legacy of UC Berkeley students working to make our society-and our university– more just. Sometimes this takes the form of organizing or marching in demonstrations, other times quietly sticking up for someone who is being silenced, or speaking up to question assumptions in a classroom.
Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant