Critical Social Justice: Rise (A CSJ 101 Round-Up)

Critical Social Justice: Rise is here and we kicked off the week today as we always do with each Critical Social Justice (this is our 5th annual!) with CSJ 101. As the kick-off to the week, CSJ 101, creates the foundation for the issues and themes we’ll explore during Critical Social Justice.

CSJ RISE - save the date - square - RGB

This year’s Critical Social Justice theme is Rise.  As we discussed in CSJ 101, to us, Rise is the call to cultivate individual and collective resistance and resilience within social justice issues and movements. We hope that CSJ events throughout the week will challenge us to think about the importance of both resistance and resilience by examining how we can do better, do more, and persist in doing it. During this particular cultural moment in our world, how do we rise to meet both opportunities and challenges in an effort to work toward a vision of inclusive excellence—whether it’s in the classroom, online, or in our communities?

To get folks excited for Critical Social Justice, leading up to the start of the week, we asked UMBC community members what they rise for and here is (a sampling) how they responded:

Messages from above photos include: “Those who are silenced in our society,” “violence against women,” “Women in STEAM,” “radical empathy,” “all students to succeed academically,” “reproductive health and justice,” “Islamophobia and religious oppression,”  “the folks that don’t think they can,” “those who are too scared to speak out,” “those who are learning to find their voice,” and “social justice.” 

At today’s CSJ 101, we took that founding question and explored not just what we rise for but why we do it, why it matters, and what we do to cultivate resiliency in our movements to create positive social change. Led by co-facilitators, Amelia Meman from the Women’s Center, and Dr. Julie Murphy from Psychology, participants sat together in groups and shared with each other how resistance and resilience takes shape in their lives.

Over the course of the event, Julie and Amelia deconstructed Rise by parsing out what participants were rising for, and how they planned to manage that. The conversation began with Amelia discussing how the metaphor for Rise helps her deepen the theme: the sun rises every morning without fail, and sheds light on both the glaring problems and the glorious beauty of the world. We are bid, every morning, to rise and find solutions or to celebrate. The issues we find, as well as the blessings can be new, but they can also be ancient.

Just so, Julie discussed the lessons we can learn from Dr. Adrienne Keene, our keynote lecturer, as well as the history of activism in the Native American community. As a people that has been actively fighting for their rights and for power, social justice activists can learn a lot from the collective and individual resistance, as well as the resilience of indigenous peoples.

To get the ball rolling, groups first began with a discussion of “resistance.” They answered questions like What do you rise for? What are you most passionate about? From these questions and the ensuing discussion, the following points were raised:

  • Despite the very wide range of topics that we covered, as well as the diversity in experiences, everyone who was gathered in UC 310, was present because they wanted take the next step in creating social change. Many brought up the recent political climate and news stories, as impetus for attending this event.
  • Activism isn’t just showing up to a rally with a sign. In fact, it has to be such much more than that! Activism is often a life calling and woven into the fabric our academic endeavors and careers. For some, survival is engaging in resistance and activism.
  • Resistance is also about accessibility and inviting others into the movement. Creating tools that are readily available to others is important to help others participate in positive social change.
  • Individual actions contribute to collective actions and change. Both the individual and community are essential.

After talking about resistance, we transitioned into talking about “resilience.” The group discussed their answers to questions like How do you continue rising? How do you stay engaged? How do you take care of yourself/others?

  • Julie shared her family’s post-2016 election activity. She and her family were passionate about resistance and had many issues that they cared about. Julie noted that everyone in her family noted that they would have to quit jobs/school/everything in order to fulfill the work that they wanted to be done. Rather than doing so, Julie and Family made a list of everything they cared about and strategized the things they could do individually and the things they could do as a family. Rather than burn out by doing too many things, Julie and Family chose reproductive rights and justice as the issue that they would work on together as a family.
  • One participant provided the insight that resilience and activism can be about understanding resources and getting people connected to them. Amelia piggybacked off of this statement and added that as a social worker, we understand that we don’t have to do everything, because we can’t possibly do everything. Social workers can only do what we have competency in and what we feel comfortable doing–and everything else can be helping people get connected.
  •  Similarly, another participant brought up that she used her unique talents, strengths, and skills to help where she could: as a Greek folk dancer, she decided to visit a predominantly Greek senior living facility and perform. The seniors there were excited to take part and were able to feel more connected and active. That was what this student could do and offer. We all can benefit the causes we care about by highlighting our strengths no matter how big or small they may be.

At the same time as CSJ 101, other CSJ volunteers and staff were outside on Academic Row at Chalking For Change asking passersby that same foundational question and encouraging them to share “Why I Rise.”

Messages from above photos include: “respect and tolerance,” “human rights,” “get beyond ‘book learning,'” “black women,” “the deaf community,” “Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Mike Brown,” “for the full inclusion of immigrants and refugees,” for the full inclusion of LGBTQ + women in public office,” “more mental health resources for POC and LGBTQ POC,” and “social justice + love.” 

From the conversations at both CSJ 101 and Chalking for Change, it is evident that what motivates community members to rise up for social justice and social change is diverse and varied. It could even feel overwhelming to think of all the work that awaits us. Yet, as discussed at CSJ 101, individual actions contribute to the actions of the community. Our individual passion and work influences the passion and work of the collective. We are not alone. Together we are better. Together we can make a difference on our campus, in our neighborhood, and throughout the country and our world.

So, why do you rise? 

We invite you to join us for the rest of this week’s Critical Social Justice: Rise events. Contribute to the conversation or follow along on social media using #CSJrise.

For more Chalking For Change photos and videos, follow the Women’s Center Facebook page. 


CSJ 101: Our Working Assumptions for Creating Brave Spaces

A post written by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers

A little snow won’t get in the way of Critical Social Justice 2015!

Yesterday was the kick-off to CSJ2015 with CSJ 101: Introduction to Brave Spaces. It was a rich conversation in which everyone was really invested and we went right through our allotted time in Commons 329. We thank our invited participants and moderator for helping us start the conversation! Prior to the start of CSJ week, we also provided ways for the UMBC community to begin engaging in the idea of creating brave spaces. You can find more on brave spaces and creating brave spaces throughout our blog like this awesome video created by the CSJ Student Alliance, a few blog posts written by Women’s Center staff members (check out Daniel and Ty’s posts), the Brave Space Guidelines of the Women’s Center, and of course, the chapter that started in all, From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. These jumping off points, in addition to the diverse perspectives and experiences of our invited panelists and community members in the room took us on a journey as we uncovered the depth and breadth of brave spaces.

Arao and Clemens spend time in their chapter exploring what brave space can be. It’s grounded in the concept of safe space but recognizes that the idea of safety can be limiting when in engaging in difficult dialogues and social justice work. They find value and necessity in taking risk and engaging in controversy to facilitate authentic learning experiences about social justice. When this kind of authenticity is nourished a brave space has been created. It’s a great read and I’d highly recommend it to student leaders, staff, and faculty committed to integrating social justice into their work and communities. But what else is brave space? How is it created? How is it maintained? Is brave space the same for everyone or can it look different from person to person? These are some of the questions we explored in CSJ 101. Knowing that not everyone could attend yesterday’s event, I’m capturing some of the highlights here as a way to root the rest of the week in a better understanding of UMBC’s understanding and practice of brave space.  Continue reading