Eastern University’s mission is to develop its students into better academics and more spiritually mature individuals. While this is something we share in common with many other universities, our commitment to justice is vital to our identity as a Christian college, and this semester, that commitment has taken the form of the Campolo Institute Justice Talks being held on campus. The Campolo Institute for Applied Research in Social Justice is an Eastern entity attached to the college of health and social sciences and is lead by Dr. Gramby-Sobukwe. The Campolo Institute is committed to the research of social injustices, developing and supporting the practice of social justice, and educating communities by raising awareness of justice issues and how to solve them. The justice talks themselves are presented monthly by different Eastern University faculty and center around specific issues of social justice, but are very broad in scope as to emphasize the theoretical work that drives the speakers’ thinking.
To get an idea of what these talks look like, they are held in Baird library and are modeled after the popular TED talks. Faculty and student gather together to listen to an hour long presentation on the topic and are given the opportunity to ask questions and open a dialogue with the speaker and the rest of the audience. So far, the first Justice Talk held was Dr. Tyler Flynn’s event back in January.
I had the pleasure of going to this event titled “Is Social Justice Possible Today: Reflections on The Progressive Era?” Dr. Flynn, a professor from the History department, began appropriately with a history lesson. Dr. Flynn called attention to what many of us fear today in American politics: That the country is more divided than ever, and will tear itself apart. Dr. Flynn argued that this is not the case, however. In his mind, the country was arguably more divided during the Gilded Age, after the Civil War, but before the world wars. Many of the problems we face today such as wealth inequality and political partisanship were far worse during this time. The laissez-faire economic policy of the time allowed for some members of society to concentrate vast amounts of wealth. While this was a time of huge economic growth at the top, large amounts of people, especially immigrants, lived in extreme poverty. Like today, many people started to take notice of these inequalities and sought to change things for the better.
Here is where Dr. Flynn thinks we can learn something. With the election of the Theodore Roosevelt, the progressive era began. The progressives were skeptical of large trusts and monopolies and fought for labor rights and an end to child labor laws. Women’s suffrage, which had been building for several decades had now made its way into the political mainstream. Authors like Upton Sinclair raised awareness of social injustices, and the work of people like Jane Addams, who pioneered modern social work, characterized this time. Dr. Flynn points to how community-based efforts, especially those that the church was involved in, effectively fought on behalf of justice issues. Dr. Flynn closed the event by having a question and answer session on his claims and social justice as a whole.
Many of the audience members were faculty who had spent much of their time devoted to social justice and education on these modern social problems. While the topic was very specific, it was framed in a way that stimulated a conversation about how we at Eastern can fight for social justice, and how we do that effectively. Many of the professors and students were very frank about their opinions on the matter, and it left me with a lot to think about.
These talks will continue over the course of the semester and everyone is encouraged to participate. On February 22, Dr. Drick Boyd will give his talk on Spirituality for Social Justice, and on March 29 Dr. Kathy-Ann Hernandez will give her talk on Social Justice as Being. All the justice talks are Thursday at 5:00 p.m. in Baird Library. If they prove to be successful and draw enough attention, the Campolo Institute plans to continue these talks in following semesters.