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New institute to tackle social justice education

September 3, 2021

The Office of Inclusion and Diversity is spearheading a new program this semester designed to educate student leaders in promoting social justice and equity. The eight-session Social Justice Leadership Institute incorporates elements of past student workshops and campus-wide dialogue initiatives.

According to Eduardo Pazos, director of the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life and a co-leader for the initiative, the College envisions this program as a holistic examination of systemic issues and communities while bringing together topics from prior workshops.

“We [want to have] a mechanism, a system or a curriculum that could give students a broad and whole approach to social justice,” said Pazos. “I think we do a really good job of conversations around race and socioeconomic class, and those are going to continue to stay for sure, but we also wanted to envision a program that would give students a very broad perspective on issues of social justice that go beyond [those factors].”

The eight sessions, which are each two hours, cover topics of racial equity, religious pluralism, understanding and challenging ableism, creating an LGBTQIA+ welcoming campus, feminism from theory to practice, classism and privilege, xenophobia and citizenship, as well as a session on intersectionality that coheres the discrete elements.

Pazos stressed that the format will be focused on facilitating a meaningful dialogue to create student leaders and agents of change.

“It’s going to be similar to what you would expect from any kind of normal workshop; there’s going to be some learning time, a lot of dialogue, a lot of conversation,” Pazos said. “A really important thing for us…is both to have an anti-oppressive pedagogy, so that we understand the way that oppression works and how to combat that, and also to make sure that students are gaining the skills to be agents of change in their communities.”

The sessions are led by staff members from the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, the Student Accessibility Office and the Center for Multicultural Life. The team hopes to synthesize the workshops with current events that impact the wider Bowdoin community and the nation as a whole.

“There is historical knowledge on race and systemic racism that is important for us to know and talk about, and that is always foundational to anything that we do around race, but that does mean we can consider many current situations around race happening in our country right now,” he said.

Kate Stern, director of the Center for Sexuality, Women and Gender and the workshops’ co-leader, said that she hopes the format of the initiative would help students interested in one workshop to expand their horizons.

“This is the first time we’ve really integrated [different topics] in an intersectional approach, and we’re hoping that people [who] might be interested in one of them come back to do another and hold the complexities of all that together,” Stern said.

According to Pazos and Stern, sessions are expected to be held on Monday nights and Friday afternoons, with the goal of completing the full eight-session program twice this semester. Students are encouraged to sign up, attend individual sessions they are interested in and are recommended to participate in the session on intersectionality after having completed three other sessions.

According to Stern, the College expects to work closely with “A Groundwater Approach to Racial Equity,” a program offered by the Racial Equity Institute (REI), in the next year. The Groundwater program is one of the eight core workshops offered by the Social Justice Leadership Institute and also a program the College is requiring all faculty, staff and students to participate in by December.

Students can expect more information from posters and emails on times and locations for the Social Justice Leadership Institute.

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