Each month, we feature a stand-out program sponsored by a college or university women’s/gender equity center. If you’d like to highlight your program for consideration, you can submit more information about it online!
Today, we’re highlighting Critical Social Justice, an annual program sponsored by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Women’s Center. Want more information about this program? Contact Jess Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Program
Critical Social Justice (CSJ) is an annual initiative started in Fall 2013 that examines the margins and intersections of issues, identities, and systems. Developed by student staff member Amelia Meman with the support of coordinator Megan Tagle Adams, CSJ emphasizes the integration of creative, analytical, and affective approaches to collaborative education and civic engagement. Each year we coordinate a week of concentrated interdisciplinary programming that centers and explores a particular social justice theme. We promote sustained intellectual and practical engagement with social justice ideologies and movements through critical pedagogy and praxis with the aim of cultivating collective investment in transformative education and productive action.
This year, we explored the theme of “Creating Brave Spaces.” We were inspired by the recent transition in many social justice circles from safe spaces to brave spaces, a framework that promotes accountability, respect, and critical engagement in difficult but crucial conversations. We hosted workshops, roundtables, creative activities, and fish bowl conversations about what it means to develop, engage in, and sustain a brave space. We also hosted popular culture critic and video blogger Franchesca “Chescaleigh” Ramsey as our keynote speaker. Ramsey encouraged the UMBC community to use the power of our online voices to use new media to create spaces for activism and social change. Throughout this week we facilitated important conversations across the UMBC community that motivated them to challenge themselves and others to become better allies and agents for social justice.
How This Program Makes an Impact
When we first proposed the idea of CSJ to the campus community, several people were confused and did not understand what social justice had to do with a women’s center. There was limited capacity for some community members to understand women’s issues and feminism as part of the greater social justice movement. In pushing forward with CSJ, we’ve created space on campus for the Women’s Center to be equated with social justice education and action and have worked to be a campus role model in having these important and critical conversations. As a result, more students at UMBC feel included and a part of our Women’s Center community.
We are particularly proud of the fact that many of the projects planned for CSJ were student-led. Despite the social justice apathy that many perceive exists at UMBC, it’s not quite so simple here. By engaging students through different activities, valuing their experiences, and encouraging them to better understand the world around them, students have shown their knowledge and passion for issues like queer liberation, intersectional feminism, prison abolition, the Black Lives Matter movement and more.
Since the inaugural Critical Social Justice week in March of 2014 and now in planning for our third year this coming October, we’ve seen an immense increase in social justice dialogues on UMBC’s campus and significant community buy-in to the CSJ initiative. As a school known for its STEM education, but which also emphasizes civic engagement and social responsibility in its mission statement, the Women’s Center team saw the potential UMBC would have as a social justice leader in the Baltimore college network. With the charged events that have occurred in Baltimore over the past couple of months, UMBC community members engaged in multi-pronged social justice action by organizing teach-ins with faculty, students, and community organizers, creating networks for promoting and participating in local protests and direct actions, and connecting with Baltimore non-profits to support food donations.
Through CSJ we have raised awareness about social justice issues on our campus, and we have also been able to provide an outlet for our student activists to express themselves. CSJ has acted as a catalyst for social justice dialogues and action on our campus, and we’re very enthusiastic about the impact it has made and will continue to make.
The Marc Steiner Show did an interview with the Women’s Center and Mosaic Center planning committee representatives. Listen to the podcast »