AQ Student Leaders Define Social Justice in First Annual Series

By Lauren F. Carlson, ‘12

Published on

During the spring 2011 semester, Aquinas student leaders defined the term "social justice" on campus and in the surrounding community. A series of events developed by the Social Action Committee, Student Senate Diversity Committee, Habitat for Humanity, and Community Action Volunteers of Aquinas (CAVA) invited the entire student body to participate in community outreach and education by local nonprofit organizations. Student leaders in each of the four clubs committed to the project, and developed the first annual Aquinas Social Justice Series.

“Social Justice to me is recognizing the dignity of every human being within a society. It is searching, working and fighting for equality through nonviolent social action,” said Social Action Committee Coordinator and junior Annie Parks. Parks hosted the first event on Thursday, January 13, and invited Elemental Project founders Jonathan Williams, Travis Fahlen, Brian Dokter, and Timm Bloem to the Moose Café to discuss local and international positive news. As the 45 plus students, professors, and staff sipped free Moose beverages, they learned about the positive impact of social justice news and the variety of opportunities available to those with the desire to serve.

“I believe social justice is taking action to move a society toward equality for all human beings,” said AQ Habitat Coordinator and senior Brittany Reed who, with the help of the organization’s president Jason Tiedemann, hosted the second event on Thursday, January 20. The group welcomed Kent County Habitat for Humanity Volunteer Coordinator and homeowner Jonie Jessup, and AmeriCorps Volunteer Recruiter Joanna Dykhuis. The two discussed the organization’s involvement in social justice through their mission to end homelessness and promote homeowner and sustainability education. Following the week night event, fifteen students, the maximum capacity, committed to a local, eight hour home build on Saturday, January 23.

“Social justice to me means working to educate about and correct a wrong you see in society,” said senior and Director of Student Senate Diversity Committee, Adam Hii. On Wednesday, January 26, Hii hosted Aquinas alumnus and Local First Communication Director, Dan Truel in the Moose Café. With an audience of over 25 students and faculty, Truel discussed the opportunities for social justice in a communications capacity, and the mission and programs of Local First to support local businesses. Though an area-wide clean up in Eastown was planned to compliment the lecture on the following Sunday, the event was cancelled due to inclement weather.

“[Social Justice] is when people in your community, your country, and the world refuse to accept the fact that some people will never have access to the fullest quality of life…they raise awareness and inspire everyone to take action to get rid of the social injustices that exist in the world,” says CAVA Assistant Coordinator and junior Adriana Facundo. Facundo and CAVA Coordinator Hannah Barker created three separate events which focused attacking poverty from a local and global perspective. On Thursday, February 3, Christina Lentini, Aquinas alumna and head of fund development and community outreach at Kids’ Food Basket, spoke on the organization’s mission to end hunger for Grand Rapids school children. After the lecture, over twenty students volunteered to decorate paper lunch sacks for the organization’s school lunch program.

“For us to live in a socially just world, every person would be free from oppression, racism, sexism, hunger, poverty and have access to all of the resources which give someone a meaningful life like education, clean water, a home… I think those are the issues that I fight for when I work for social justice,” said Barker. On Saturday February 5, she led twelve students in a day of volunteering at Rays of Hope for Haiti, a non-profit institution which donates supplies to medical missions. The event was catered by Chez Olga, a Haitian restaurant in Eastown, whose owner has close ties to Rays of Hope. Lastly, CAVA hosted Sowhope’s founder, Mary Daily Brown, at Rowster’s Coffee on Tuesday, February 8, for an open discussion on poverty in the third world and the organization’s mission of providing holistic aid to women in struggling nations.

Together, Parks, Hii, Reed, Facundo, and Barker worked to develop an educational and entertaining series of events which attracted a large number of students, revived retired student clubs, and created a lasting interest in social justice. As current student leaders look forward to the coming years of AQ Social Justice, they hope that their successors will understand the importance of community outreach and awareness. “Hopefully they can make it bigger and better,” said Barker. “It was really neat for me to be able to share organizations I was really passionate about.”