The first annual Social Justice Conference at Southern Oregon University began Friday, January 14, at 5:00 p.m. in the Rogue River Room in Stevenson Union. The two-day conference is hosted by the SOU Multicultural Resource Center and the Social Justice Conference Planning Committee.
The conference is comprised of three sessions of workshops exploring topics such as “Why We Still need to Teach about the Holocaust,” “The Language of Diversity,” and “What Stands between Us.” The last of those is a workshop that will create a safe place for Euro-Americans and people of color to discuss questions that they have always wanted to ask each other, but were worried would be inappropriate.
Emily Drew is the key presenter at the conference. Drew is an associate professor of sociology and ethnic studies at Willamette University. Drew’s areas of study cover racism, mass media, and social change. She often speaks and advocates for social justice at conferences and other events. Drew is a co-trainer at Crossroads Anti-Racism Organizing and Training for the workshop “Understanding Institutional Racism.”
Marvin Woodard, the coordinator of the MRC, saw Drew speak several years before, and never forgot her.
“I kept thinking I really need to figure out how to get her here,” he said. Woodard and other members of the Social Justice Conference Planning Committee all agreed that this would be the perfect time to do so. Drew will be leading one workshop: “Institutionalized Racial Advantage: How Do Whiteness & Racism Affect My Institution?” during session II.
Woodard wants the conference to help people communicate about social justice issues.
“They don’t know how to talk about it,” said Woodard. He hopes people will be exposed to and able to discuss “how the world goes round in the dominant culture… [and] what’s going on in their culture or community.”
Woodard also wants people to walk away and be able to say, “When I see an injustice happen, I can recognize it, and address it.”
Woodard hopes the conference will enlighten people to what rights they possess so that they don’t lose them, as well as who has these rights.
“I want people to recognize that these rights are not across the board, and we have to shake the system up to fix it. I want people to be shaken-not shaken to tears, but shaken to action,” said Woodard.
The idea of a social justice conference is not new to the MRC.
“We’ve wanted to do it for a few years now,” said Woodard. With this year’s campus theme being race, a common topic in social justice, the MRC felt that this was the proper time.
The Social Justice Planning Committee is a group of SOU students, staff and faculty. Woodard put this group together solely of SOU associated people because he “wanted to show that we [SOU] have the panache to host such an event.” According to Woodard, those in the group are well-versed, dedicated and capable of bringing the event to live.