Social justice. It’s a big issue. And, it’s a big part of sustainability. That’s why staff members in the College’s Office of Sustainability have decided to offer students and the rest of the campus community an opportunity to foster discussions on various aspects of social justice. The Social Justice Coffee Hour begins at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15, in the Alumni Center at the School of Education Health and Human Performance.
The theme for this inaugural session is “Women in the Workplace. ” Leading the discussion will be a three-member panel: Jen Jones from the Office of Sustainability; Amanda Baldwin, development and program manager with the Center for Women; and Tonya Mitchell, executive chef for Aramark at the College of Charleston.
The Social Justice Coffee Hour is the brainchild of two students – senior Nicole Fernandez and junior Aisha Gallion. For Fernandez, a double major in biology and French with a minor in environmental studies, this initiative was inspired by her joint roles as an intern with both the Office of Sustainability and the College’s Center for Civic Engagement. And for Gallion, an anthropology major with a minor in African American studies and also a sustainability intern, the initiative is rooted in her commitment to student activism.
“I’ve been planning this since June,” explains Fernandez. “I’ve been interested in sustainability since before high school and I’ve worked with the Office of Civic engagement since I was a freshman, so the Social Justice Coffee Hour is a way for me to combine those two passions of mine.”
In developing this series, Fernandez says that she and Gallion examined how other universities were furthering on-campus discussions about issues of social justice. They opted to pattern their series after the approach taken at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
“We’ve taken the UNC Asheville model and made it slightly more intimate,” says Fernandez. “Our guest facilitators (panelists) will talk for about 20 minutes, and then we’ll break up into smaller groups with a discussion facilitator for each and spend another 20 minutes or so in discussion. For these sessions, we’re emphasizing dialogue as opposed to debate, so everyone attending will be encouraged to be an active listener.”
One of the reasons that Fernandez has taken the initiative to orchestrate the Social Justice Coffee Hour is that she’s convinced a lot of those who are in tune with such issues aren’t connecting with others who would like to be more involved. “That disconnect can be really frustrating,” she says. “So, what we’ve created will ideally be a way for anyone of any level of interest or awareness to simply sit down and share their outlook. We want to increase awareness and knowledge of these issues in a safe and respectful space through emphatic listening and insightful conversation.”
Fernandez says that she and Gallion plan to hold two or three Social Justice Coffee Hours each semester. “Each one will be focused on a particular theme or issue,” she says. “For the next one, on November 19th, we’ll be discussing homelessness among military veterans.”
The Social Justice Coffee Hour will feature free coffee from Counter Culture Coffee and tea from Charleston Tea Plantation. Local honey will also be available. The organizers are encouraging participants to bring their own mugs, but mugs will also be provided.
For additional information on this series, contact the Office of Sustainability at 843.953.0749, or visit the office’s website at sustainability.cofc.edu. (Lead image courtesy of Social Justice Journal.)