Thursday, November 21, 2013

Diversity is Our Strength: SJSU & Social Justice

On my way to work as a faculty member at SJSU, each day I pass the Carlos & Smith Memorial Statue. John Carlos and Tommy Smith, aside from being two of our greatest USA track stars, put their lives on the line at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, protesting the unfair treatment of poor and disenfranchised people in the US. Watch an incredible documentary here.

Each day I am reminded of the larger legacy of social justice at SJSU and our collective pursuit of socioeconomic and cultural equality.

San Jose State has a vibrant diverse study body and professoriate. The strength of this heterogeneity was evidenced today at the #BlackThursday rally held on the SJSU campus organized by the SJSU BSA. Students, staff, and faculty marched in response to the news that broke today about hate crimes allegedly committed on the SJSU campus by three Anglo-American students directed at an African-American student. The rally was a public call to the SJSU community to reaffirm our commitments to inclusion and to refocus attention onto issues of power and identity. Check out the twitter feed with the hashtag #BlackThursday to engage in the dialogue.

The SF Chronicle reported that “prosecutors said the abuse began in August when an 18-year-old African American student was named “Three-Fifths” by his white roommates as a reference to way the U.S. government, during its early history, counted blacks. When the freshman, protested, they proceeded to call him ‘Fraction.’ The roommates then allegedly hung a confederate flag in the dorm, wrote the N-word on a dry-erase board and later fastened a bicycle lock around the man’s neck. The victim’s parents saw the Confederate flag and the dry-erase board with the racial epithet and reported it to housing officials.”

Read more about the alleged hate crimes here. It is powerful reading that inspires anger that we must turn toward critical thought and then action.

In a letter to the campus community, SJSU president Mohammad Qayoumi stated:

Diversity and a commitment to social justice are in SJSU’s institutional DNA. Our library is named for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; many of us pass daily by the sculpture of Tommie Smith and John Carlos or under the Cesar E. Chavez Arch. This deeply disturbing incident reaffirms that we must protect and steward our values. I am proud of all who marched today in support of them.

As a cultural studies professor, I am uniquely placed to drive a dialogue around these issues and to facilitate ways that the SJSU campus can come together to heal and act. We can create systems where all students are safe and empowered to follow their personal, academic, and professional dreams.

The legacy of Carlos and Smith is still alive, and we must keep it so. We are all part of the dialogue and the solution. These incidents remind us of the importance to be ever-vigilant. We are agents of change and have the power to affect the institutions and systems that govern us.
Social Justice is a process, not an outcome, which (1) seeks fair (re)distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities; (2) challenges the roots of oppression and injustice; (3) empowers all people to exercise self-determination and realize their full potential; (4) and builds social solidarity and community capacity for collaborative action. Advocacy and intentional student development further support this definition.

Video Source: jojojobebe.

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