After nearly a year of organizing student activists and collaborating with administrators, next month a new program will take the first step toward creating a more just campus.
During Spring Break, Mar 14 to 17, the student group A Just Grinnell will hold a free workshop aimed at facilitating discussions about oppression and privilege in Grinnell. Participants will go on to develop a permanent program to enable such dialogue throughout the community on an ongoing basis.
The workshop will feature three days with a workshop facilitator from the Social Justice Training Institute, Kathy Obear. According to organizer Leah Krandel’09, the first few days will be spent defining social justice and its relevance to campus life, along with training sessions. The final day will consist of “talking about how we see a peer education program coming together,” Krandel said.
Feedback from the workshop and a Pioneerweb survey will be used to create a pilot program this spring as a model for a permanent program to be instituted next fall. The ultimate product is intended to be “a place where respectful dialogue can take place, but also where beliefs are challenged and new information is provided” said group co-founder Brian Perbix ’09.
Along with Krandel and Perbix, students Dayna Hamann ’09, Latona Giwa ’10, and Julie Ross ’09 created A Just Grinnell to expand the formal discussions organized by students in response to the bias-motivated incidents committed in the spring of 2008.
“Over the summer we were talking and felt that there needed to be something that was institutionalized,” Krandel said. “And that we shouldn’t just be talking about LBGT issues because there are a lot of other ways that people are disadvantaged and privileged on this campus.”
Perbix said that the organization saw a need on campus for a common forum to present social justice concerns. “Instead of relying on student groups to fill that vacuum, this is a picture where everyone has experience of having dialogue,” Perbix said. “We will probably eventually find a home in Student Affairs.”
A Just Grinnell’s program was developed with advisement from the Student Affairs office. According to Dean of Students Travis Greene, several members of the administration, such as Vice President for Diversity and Achievement Elena Bernal, and Vice President for Student Affairs Houston Dougharty have been involved in similar projects in the past.
“Elena, Houston and I have done work around social justice issues for quite some time and have actually gone to other colleges and done some consulting in that area,” Greene said. “Given that many of [the organizers] are graduating this year, they were hoping to try and find some way to institutionalize it in a way where it would live on past their time here at Grinnell.”
Despite Student Affairs support of the program, Krandel said students have not reached a consensus on the program’s necessity, which has sparked further conversation.
“Some people don’t see the need for this program on campus,” Krandel said. “Often I’ll point to the better remembered incidents on campus like the hate crime and the swastikas and defamation of posters. … For every person who says we don’t need a program like this, there are four or five people who say ‘yeah, that sounds really cool and really important.’”
In addition to creating a permanent program, Dougharty envisions the organization’s efforts extending beyond campus. “[It’s] not only having the chance to bring trainers here to help us, but also having the opportunity to have folks from Grinnell go to work with folks at SJTI or other sorts of organizations,” Dougharty said.