Student activists discuss prominent social justice issues

By Kayla Lafi
Staff Writer

Feminism, race and sexual violence were just a few of the many social justice issues discussed in the Education Building as students were encouraged to approach different tables and explore presentations by its respective organizations.

In an effort to bring the College community together, Residential Education and Housing hosted Activism Out Loud: A Social Justice Exposition on March 20.

The event was the brainchild of four passionate students: junior business marketing major Baldween Casseus, senior public health and psychology double major Aditi Mahapatra, sophomore biology major Madhav Patel and junior interactive multimedia major Gabe Salazar.

“We are four students who are really passionate about all intersecting issues of social justice,” Mahapatra said. “We all have our own passions within social justice, but we all care strongly about social justice as a whole.”

The event took around a year to plan, but the students were happy with the event’s impact.

“We felt there was a need for students to learn more about different social justice issues and interact with different groups both on and off campus,” Casseus said. “We wanted (the event) to bring everyone together.”

The planners of the event made sure to include a range of topics and presentations.

“We wanted to have a little bit of everything ranging from race, class, gender and economic status,” Casseus said.

Members of Women In Learning and Leadership emphasized the importance of intersectional feminism, a concept regarding the ways oppressive institutions are interconnected.

“I am a white straight woman,” said Sam Franz, a general member of WILL and a sophomore communication studies and English double major. “My experiences with the world are different than those of a black, Asian or Latina woman.”

Different social justice issues bring the College community together. (Kayla Lafi / Staff Writer)

Bailey Falco, a co-chair of WILL’s Internal Affairs Committee and a junior psychology major, presented and stressed that non-intersectional feminism does not take into account the system of oppression that impacts all women differently.

“For example, white feminism is the focus of the (feminist) movement,” Falco said. “A common statistic is that women make 78 cents to a man’s dollar, but that’s really only true for white women. Black women make 64 cents to a man’s dollar and hispanic women only 56 cents.”

Meanwhile, Abbi Ankar, president of Best Buddies and a senior special education and psychology double major, represented the College’s Best Buddies program and emphasized the need for inclusion through language.

“We are not only trying to end the use of the R-word, but we believe that all words matter,” Anker said. “We are all more alike than different, and the way that we address people really matters. That’s our big push today.”

Additionally, local organizations including Planned Parenthood, Habitat for Humanity, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen and Womanspace were represented at the event.

Womanspace seeks to prevent domestic and sexual abuse, as well as protect families and individuals that have been impacted by it.

“You may see different types of domestic abuse, but it’s all the same and it can happen to anyone,” said Susan Adams, a volunteer and community outreach coordinator for Womanspace. “I have been with the agency for 29 years, and I have seen the difference we can make.”

The College’s Anti-Violence Initiative also had two presentations on bystander intervention and sexual violence and consent. AVI educates the College community about issues like sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking.

“We are talking about this because in a rape culture, social messages such as those seen in pop culture normalize instances of power-based personal violence and place a lot of the blame on victims,” said Matt Hardy, a Student Anti-Violence Education peer educator for AVI and senior woman, gender and sexuality studies and sociology double major.

Along with rape and sexual assault, the topic of immigration has been a crucial topic at the College.

Thelma Carrera, a junior philosophy and Spanish double major, and Genesis Rubio, a junior psychology major, dispelled the myths of immigration during their presentation.

One myth was the generalization that all undocumented immigrants are criminals.

“If you are an undocumented immigrant the last thing you want to do is bring attention to yourself,” Carrera said.

In addition, the Muslim Student Association discussed Islamophobia.

“(This conversation) is really important because of President Trump and the media,” said Kanza Tahir, a junior biology major. “Even though we feel that TCNJ is very liberal, there might be some unconscious bias about Islam, which is why it is so important to have this conversation and answer people’s questions. It’s better that they hear it from a Muslim than a person who doesn’t know the facts.”

Farsha Rizwan, a senior biology major, also believes it is essential that students are aware that the College is not safe from prejudice.

“I think, sometimes, it seems like TCNJ’s in a bubble,” Rizwan said. “(Students) know what is happening in the political climate, but they don’t really know that it is actually happening to Muslim students at the College.”

Decontee Davis, a senior sociology major, gave a presentation on the ideology of color blind racism and why it’s detrimental to diversity.

“(The ideology) ignores race, and when you ignore race, you ignore the different experiences of minorities,” Davis said.

The forum served as an open door that encouraged students and community members to discuss important and interconnected social justice issues.

“It is impossible to talk about activist issues without considering how they are all interconnected,” Rubio said.

The event brought together activists leading the movement for local, national and global change, and it created a safe space for students to learn about these issues.

“Now that we created this event, we hope that it will become a legacy event and each year, hopefully, it will become a little bit better,” Casseus said.