McKendree: Justice for all

BY LAUREN REEVES                                                                                                                             Staff Writer

This 2015-2016 school year, McKendree University is taking a new approach as they dive into the mysterious waters of diversity. Our university has elected to create the Social Justice and Equity Committee (SJEC). This committee was called into action to help McKendree University take the front lines on all menacing social justice issues that try to step on McKendree’s front lawn.

Appointed by President James Dennis, Director of Public Safety Ranodore Foggs was asked to form a “task force” to explore issues of social justice and equity on our campus. Some goals of the committee are to develop strategies for moving forward, support our communities of difference and expand our understanding of difference in all of its forms. The SJEC includes diverse representation from faculty, staff and students. The committee’s mission is as follows:

McKendree University values the dignity and sacred worth of all members of our community. To achieve this end, the Social Justice and Equity Committee engages diverse members of McKendree University in meaningful activities to promote positive and sustained relationships among all persons inclusive of race/ethnicity, gender, religion, social class, sexuality and all other aspects of the human experience.

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The committee is striving to create a greater and more diverse community space to facilitate discussion on diversity issues.

Member of the SJEC and Director of Multicultural Affairs, Brent Reeves, mentioned this: “The concept of having small discussion groups came as a response to the questions and concerns of the issues surrounding the Ferguson, Missouri, problems and how the U.S. has not given the underlying causes attention and action to solve them.”

When it comes to relating that task to Mckendree University, the committee also came together over a very trying event that happened last year. “We had a racially motivated incident happen to one of our students of color shortly after the Ferguson protests came to the attention of the world,” said Reeves. “The administration tried to address these issues in a large campus forum, but it proved to be ineffective.”

The Social Justice and Equity Committee understands that accomplishing their goals is no small task.  Member of SJEC Dr. Manning added, “The committee is making every effort in creating diverse small groups with representation from every ethnicity in the hopes of having meaningful dialogue. We are reaching out to students to make sure we maximize the possibility of having their voices heard within social justice activities.”

To aid the committee, they have created a sub group called the Change Ambassadors. These individuals will be instrumental in carrying out the mission of the SJEC and the university. The ambassadors will work in partnership with the SJEC to form connection groups on campus. Change Groups will meet for dialogue only six times this spring.

“The Change Ambassadors will be the facilitators of these small groups. They will be trained to lead discussions on topics and events involving all areas of diversity but giving issues of social inequity (like racism) a priority,” says a soulful Reeves. “It is our hope that these groups will then help lead the campus to better understanding of those who are different from yourself. I highly encourage all to sign up for one of these groups in January!”

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The committee held an open forum in Bothwell Chapel back in September for all those who were interested, and the turnout was more than the committee expected. The Committee and President were excited to see the initial prospective students, faculty and staff eager to want to take this step in the right direction for diversity on McKendree’s campus.

Faculty Change Ambassador, Dr. Halimin Herjanto, was very interested in the program. “It is a very good move that we initiated. We must understand that, as our world is getting smaller, you will see a number of different people, whether they are a different ethnicity, [speak a different] language or anything; you name it. I am a product of bi-culture, so I understand that we need to live in harmony, and there is no way we can accomplish that unless we get to know each other.”

Dr. Herjanto continues to say, “We as human beings are not perfect. We must learn from each other….Change is coming. The problem we have is that people don’t understand how beautiful our rainbow is….We are all the same; there is no difference.”

Student Change Ambassador, Mandy Aoieong, was called to take part in this new social justice initiative. “I heard it was full of diversity, and I want to share my background of being Asian American and a female with others. I feel like there is a lot to share and bring to this group.”

Aoieong believes that the committee and ambassadors will open more eyes for students because they may be too shy or too uncomfortable in some situations. “I feel like a little push from the ambassadors to help them will make a huge difference,” remarked Aoieong.

The group as a whole contains a lot of diversity to offer McKendree.

Aoieong with great admiration stated, “We have so much diversity within our group, [it] is great. Listening to their experiences is something that is really nice. I would like to see more students in diversity groups to make sure that we have made a difference.”

Change Ambassadors Dr. Halimin Herjanto and Mandy Aoieong have great hopes for their committee and their roles as ambassadors but know that they would like more training to be even more helpful to others.

On Oct. 16, the committee held their first training retreat. During this retreat, the committee called upon Residence Life Director, Mitch Nasser, to lead in the learning process. During the retreat, Nasser led the group in discussions covering the complexity of social justice, what is change, who am I, what am I working on and how am I unique? They broke down the issue of the Confederate Flag.

Leading the discussion, Nasser noted that it was a great experience. “When I was first asked to speak, I felt honored but a little nervous. It went very well.” He believes that McKendree is being proactive with the SJEC. “I think there’s things I see the committee doing: bridging conversation amongst students, staff and faculty about all kinds of issues and getting more people to care about hard issues.”

When asked about some problems the committee and the ambassadors may face, Nasser mentioned how students could be a bit apprehensive when approaching these topics.

“I can see students interested in participating but nervous about how that happens when it’s face-to-face where they can’t hide behind anything.” However, he believes that the committee has good intentions when they thought about how to facilitate discussions. “I think that this is a good design, having staff, students and faculty really executing the mission of this university. We talk about community and how we are all a part of it,” says Nasser. “It makes total sense.”

After the discussions and training, Nasser concluded to say, “My biggest hope is [that], given the opportunity, others will [want to] take ownership of these conversations and get more involved.”

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Upcoming training will occur more in the weeks to come, and the connection groups will form in the spring 2016 semester. Expect to see more of the Social Justice Committee and its Change Ambassadors more in the year to come.

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