Shining a spotlight on social justice

Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.

UIC’s Social Justice Initiative, a new interdisciplinary program, sponsored a human rights event in the fall that featured civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson. Photo: Joshua Clark

UIC’s Social Justice Initiative, a new interdisciplinary program, sponsored a human rights event in the fall that featured civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson. Photo: Joshua Clark

A new interdisciplinary program, the Social Justice Initiative, was established to further that objective.

“The Social Justice Initiative represents a very organic coming together of faculty, students, staff, administrators and community partners committed to various aspects of social justice research, teaching and practice in collaboration with community partners,” says Barbara Ransby, director of gender and women’s studies and head of the initiative.

The new program, based in the Office of the Vice Provost for Planning and Programs, builds upon ongoing socially conscious research and interests across different disciplines on campus, improves connections with external partners and serves students interested in social justice work.

For example, its next event will be a collaboration with WBEZ-FM Chicago Public Radio on April 6. The Social Justice Initiative will co-host the station’s sixth annual Global Activism Expo, an all-day event at the UIC Forum featuring scholars and civic leaders involved in global service and activism.

The idea for the Social Justice Initiative began to develop during campus discussions more than three years ago.

Since its formal launch last year, the initiative has become a conduit for faculty, students and the community to explore the meaning and practice of social justice in relation to the environment, health disparities, violence, racism, poverty and immigration, among other issues.

There are nearly 200 faculty and more than 200 courses offered at UIC that focus on some aspect of social justice scholarship, Ransby says.

“We have a rich and robust community doing life-altering work that expands the boundaries of ‘justice,'” she says.

While the challenges of social justice may have personal significance for many in UIC’s diverse student population, the variety of projects generated by the initiative intends to benefit students of all backgrounds and majors.

“We want to help our students build critical thinking and research skills that will make them more effective social change agents and ethical and socially conscious professionals,” says Ransby, who is also a professor of history and African American studies.

The program has already hosted a variety of campus events, including the Pop Up Just Art Space, 729 W. Maxwell St, and a human rights discussion last fall featuring civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams, UIC’s first Jane Addams distinguished social justice fellow.

Earlier this month, the initiative hosted a panel discussion with filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, director of “Jai Bhim Comrade,” and a session on “Archive, Historiography and the Black Radical Tradition: New Histories and Stories,” with Anthony Bogues, director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown University.

bflood@uic.edu