striving for social justice

*I did not take the featured image*

Ah, social justice. Social justice is a topic that sets my soul on fire, peaks my interest, and motivates me to make a change in this world.

Social justice is a topic that I’m constantly learning more about… almost daily it seems. Social justice is a topic that many of my friends and I spend time discussing. We can go from talking about the latest episode of Jane the Virgin to systemic oppression. I like being able to have these conversations with the people in my life even if we do not always see eye to eye.

I’ll be honest. The main reason I decided to start my blog a few months ago was to have a space to share my thoughts on important and sometimes difficult topics. Whether it’s mental health, self-love, racism, privilege, politics… etc. I wanted to have a place where I could speak out on issues without feeling like I was speaking over anyone or getting into debates with anyone. That’s the least of my intentions. I believe everyone deserves to have a seat at the table and a voice at the table. We do not all have to agree and that’s the beauty of free speech. However, we must also be willing to embrace the discomfort. We must be willing to be called out on our own biases and actions. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to many of us. However, we all had to learn what we know now from somewhere or someone. These experiences help shape our worldview and help us to go out into the world to educate other people and continue educating ourselves.

I recently went on a social justice retreat. I can honestly say my life was changed during this year’s MLK weekend. My perspectives on the world were expanded and challenged. I learned to unpack some of my own privileges as a cis heterosexual middle class woman as well as sharing my experiences with oppression as a black woman.

The weekend consisted of many discussions centered around race, gender identity, religion, privilege, and oppression. 40+ UGA students and I attended this retreat, so I had the opportunity to meet many campus superstars! I met so many people from various social groups and I met some people I would not have otherwise met. It was cool seeing so many groups represent UGA at the retreat. It reminded me that there is diversity on my school’s campus despite it being a predominantly white institution (PWI). Diversity goes beyond race to include a variety of other identities as well. Sometimes what makes us diverse is not always our visible identities.

It was refreshing to have a space to be surrounded by other like-minded individuals and some individuals holding differing opinions for me. We all had a common purpose, however, which was to learn more about social justice and how to improve the social climate of not only our campus but also our nation.

It took me forever to finally sit down and put my thoughts about the retreat on paper and I honestly cannot do the weekend justice with one single blog post. Also, I don’t want to give away any of the activities done during the retreat because I encourage all UGA students to please apply to be a “social justice scholar” and attend next year’s retreat! Please let me know if you have any questions about my personal experience or how to sign up.

Anyways, I just wanted to touch on a few highlights from the retreat and some of the things I learned. I can’t have such an eye-opening weekend and not share a bit of what I learned. That’d be counterproductive. So, I hope you get something out of this post because I definitely took a lot away from the retreat.

“I feel like I have to be ‘the good one'”- a student speaking on being black at a PWI 

I am so grateful for the opportunity to spend time with some of my fellow black UGA students during the retreat. I appreciated having a safe space to discuss our thoughts on being black and more importantly being a black student at a PWI. It was interesting to hear other students speak on their experiences and immediately recognize the feeling. I felt affirmed when sharing my experiences with micoaggressions and having others chime in with “oh yeah that happened to me, too!” I felt that my thoughts were valid and I felt that I could share my experiences without fear of being told to stop being so sensitive or to stop playing the race card.

Being a black student at a PWI is certainly an experience that I could spend an entire blog post writing about, but I would rather have a conversation about my experiences if anyone is curious. I am so grateful for my opportunity to attend the University of Georgia don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. I’ve met some of the most genuine and authentic people who have helped shape me into the woman I am today. I am grateful for the courses I’ve taken that are preparing me for my future as an educator. However, I will say that I quoted the student above because many black students often feel that we are not seen as anything more than a demographic. We feel that we must work twice as hard to prove our intelligence to our classmates and to our professors. We feel we must speak, act, and look a certain way to be accepted by our peers. And to any students reading this that were/are skeptical of being a racial minority at a college, I say don’t listen to the haters and go for it! You’ll have your moments of discomfort, but you belong there! You can have a voice and you can make your mark. There are several people who love and support you.

“Oppression isn’t on an individual basis, but it is systemic.”

Sometimes, often times really, inequality stems from systemic oppression that’s been in place for several years. We must work to remove these barriers and these systems we all live in to ensure not just equality but equity for all. It’s kinda hard to work against an entire system working against you, ya know? It’s going to take the people. It’s going to the take the voice, the actions, and the resilience of the American people to make a difference and push back against systemic oppression.

Be an accomplice, not an ally”

Sharing posts on Facebook in favor of social justice movements is great way to stand in solidarity for sure. I love sharing Facebook posts or retweeting things that I believe everyone needs to see. However, sometimes it takes more than a post. Sometimes it takes pointing out privileges, racism, sexism, ableism, etc. that you may seem in the workplace, in the classroom, etc. Some people are well-intentioned, but we all often put our foot in our mouths and say things that offend other people. If you notice someone or yourself doing this, I believe it is important to call out what was said or done and to learn from it. It does not have to be done in a hateful, angry, or argumentative way. It can be respectful and civil. I’ve really become unapologetic in speaking up for myself and other marginalized groups of people. Being an ally is great, but I want to help more and I am working to find productive ways to do so.

**One important thing to remember, though, is that social justice activism looks differently for everyone! I am in no way trying to sound ableist in the above statement. I understand we sometimes are not able to physically or mentally fight for the causes we support or stand by and that’s perfectly okay. One important message at the retreat challenged us to look inside ourselves and ask “Am I an ally or an accomplice?” **

“Call people out, but call them back in”

One of our fearless leaders on the retreat and one of my small group facilitators made this excellent statement. It’s important to call people out on things that are offensive and simply not okay. However, we shouldn’t isolate people or guilt them. We shouldn’t make people feel unintelligent for something they may have meant with well-intentions. Instead, it is important to call them back into the conversation. It’s important to educate them on the issue at hand and help them learn. We must remember to give each other grace. We all make mistakes and we are all still learning. I think of it this way: We all had to learn everything we know from somewhere or someone. Remember that everyone else is the same. We also must remember that there is still a lot that we still do not know.

Lastly, let’s remember that social justice is “a process and a goal”

It made my heart smile to see so many Americans out there for the cause this weekend. It makes me happy to see people exercising their first amendment rights and fighting for their neighbors in a beautiful, peaceful, but powerful, profound, and moving way. I seriously wish I’d taken part in a march. While these changes will not happen overnight, I do honestly believe there are good days to come. We must remain resilient in fighting the good fight. We must stand together for all people. I am all for intersectionality. Let’s remember that in calling ourselves feminists that includes anyone who identifies as female regardless of their sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, ability, etc. If we fight for ourselves, we must fight for each other as well.

Remember to get these conversations started. Remember to not be afraid to speak your mind on issues that you deeply care about. Remember that we the people have the power to make change. We can, we did, and we will.

Remember also to respect everyone’s opinion. Yes, even those that are different from yours.I avoided posting this for a while because I didn’t want to lose any friends/followers/etc over my opinions, but I realized that I have the right to speak out on social justice just as much as anyone else.

I see several things on social media and hear several things that I do not agree with or understand in my daily life, but I respect it all. I expect the same.

I hope this post was somewhat helpful. It’s truly hard to sum up my thoughts on such a broad, umbrella topic that I am so passionate about.

From the looks of this post’s length, I’m sure there will be more social justice posts to come.

Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far.

Lastly, I leave you with:

“The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.”- Adams, Bell, and Griffin

Until Next Time,

Nicole xo

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