As part of a series of events at Elon University commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr., a “Difficult Dialogue” held Jan. 17 facilitated conversation about social justice in the world today.
The Diversity Emerging Education Program (DEEP), intended to hold the discussion in a judgment-free environment, according to Melissa Jordan, associate director of the multicultural center.
The conversation was remarkably candid. According to several students in the room, Elon as a whole does not share their passion for social justice.
Sophomore Yasmine Arrington, junior Kanree Wright and senior Emily Kane spearheaded the discussion, which began with an examination of the most prominent social justice issues in the world today. The conversation was quickly narrowed to the confines of the Elon “bubble” and whether social justice is really valued on campus.
Some students suggested the Elon community is not open to discussing social justice issues such as starvation, poverty and education.
“As a whole, the campus climate involving hard things isn’t one open to talking,” Kane said.
Citing the “Not on Our Campus” initiative that followed two racially charged incidents at Elon in September 2011, senior Lauren Clapp said the campus community shouldn’t wait to address these kinds of issues only when they happen. Rather, she said she would prefer Elon to be proactive in promoting social justice and volunteerism.
“We’re into social justice when it’s trendy and relevant,” Clapp said. “The issue is still here, but I don’t see any sort of engaged, sustained interest beyond show up, wear a button, have a profit share and we’re done.”
Senior Will Brummett echoed Clapp.
“Elon does things afterwards, and we are a reactionary community,” he said. “We’re well-intentioned, but we’re not there yet.”
But real acts of social justice are easier said than done, according to Wright.
“It’s not just about me saying, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to go out and do it,’” Wright said. “It’s time-consuming, and it takes a lot of hard work and education about the issues.”
But the manner in which students are educated is contributing to the problem, Jordan said.
“We encourage students to sit, listen and take notes, not sit, listen, then give us your opinion,” she said. “We train students to be thinkers when we give you the opportunity to think.”
Students must first develop the willingness to address social injustices, which is lacking throughout much of campus, according to Kane.
“A lot of Elon students aren’t really willing to challenge themselves on that deeper level,” she said. “Social justice for me is looking at the core root of problems that require you to do community service.”
Senior Courtland Dooley called for more realistic expectations of students at a university like Elon.
“If you were that adamant about social justice, you wouldn’t go to college,” he said. “Your college would be giving back to the community. That would be your education.”
But academic obligations do not excuse students from helping others, Wright said. She volunteers with Education For Liberia, a nonprofit that works to educate children in her native Liberia.
“Social justice is us acting as a voice for the voiceless,” she said. “But at Elon, I feel like they’re like, ‘Yes, go out and do service,’ but how many of us actually knows what Burlington looks like?”
The event’s low turnout demonstrated Elon’s disregard for social justice issues, according to freshman Jensen Roll.
“If we’re to say that we’re at all worried about social justice, I think you can see that by the turnout of this room, that’s not the case,” he said.