“Be woke.”

That’s a refrain from a poem written by Nia-Semone McIntyre, a sophomore studying political science and communication at the College of Charleston. McIntryre’s poem, an ode to the victims of lynchings across South Carolina, was displayed as part of a powerful art exhibit shown last spring at Charleston’s City Gallery titled “WOKE: Rattling Bones, Conversations, Sacred Rites and Holy Places.” Now, her poem is part of another powerful exhibit – “Woke to Social Justice” – which is on display in the Addlestone Library rotunda through Sept. 21, 2018.

The exhibit is borne out of a partnership between the College’s Sustainability Literacy Institute (SLI) and the Gullah Society. It showcases several components from the original Woke exhibit, including a three-dimensional piece called “The Hanging Tree.” In addition, the exhibit offers statements meant to engage viewers regarding the issues pertaining to the SLI’s CofC Sustains/Solves theme for 2018-19 of social justice and fair distribution.

Part of the Woke to Social Justice exhibit. (Photos by Heather Moran)

According to Todd LeVasseur, the SLI’s director, “It’s important that our students, and our campus community, participate in the conversation we’re trying to foster with this year’s CofC Sustains/Solves theme. The SLI’s overall goal is to carry out the College’s Quality Enhancement Plan, which essentially is helping students to understand sustainability as a bridge to addressing 21st-century problems.

“Last year our focus included issues of water quality and access,” explains LeVasseur, who is an assistant professor of religious studies and environmental and sustainability studies. “This year, our focus is on issues of social justice and fair distribution. Ideally, the community will begin to see how all these annual themes are interconnected, and that we can’t address some problems without addressing others. So, if there is injustice in society based on race, gender, sexual orientation or other intersectional categories, then we will fall short of sustainability. This exhibit helps to explain why that is.”

Two professors from the College provided the impetus for both Woke exhibits and co-curated them – Ade Ofunniyin and Joanna Gilmore. Offunniyin, or “Dr. O” as students refer to him, teaches in the anthropology, women’s and gender studies and African American Studies programs. He’s also the founder and director of the Gullah Society. Gilmore teaches a course on Museum Interpretation and Audiences within the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

“The WOKE exhibit was intended to alert the community to the pain and suffering that still exists in our society,” says Ofunniyin. “The pain is largely the result of unfairness; the unfairness is usually based on someone’s gender, ethnicity or economic status. The unfairness touches so many areas of our lives; the unfairness affects all of us and endangers our wellbeing and the earth that we call home. We live in this pain together, and together we can resolve many of the problems and issues that produce the pain. We must stand together. We can make a difference!”

“Woke to Social Justice” is one of several efforts the SLI is orchestrating this year to engage the campus community on issues of social justice and fair distribution. This institute is also sponsoring arts management and arts entrepreneurship professor Jason White’s presentation “See the Dance,” on Friday evening, Aug. 31, 2018, in the Chapel Theatre, as well as “Man 2 Man,” an ongoing discussion series beginning Sept. 10, intended to address toxic masculinity on campus. For more information about the SLI and its events, visit sustain.cofc.edu.

Featured image: “The Hanging Tree.”