Teach-In sessions to cover social justice, equity

Teach-In sessions to cover social justice, equity

By Arpan Lobo | 11/1/17 9:39pm

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GVL / Courtesy - gvsu.edu and Amanda Pitts MarcQus Wright, director of TRIO Student Support Services, speaks during a presentation about first-generation students at the Teach-In on January 19 in the Kirkhof Center. More than 1,100 people attended, and more than 60 sessions were held.

While certain conversations are inherently difficult to start, engaging in challenging discussions can be beneficial for everyone involved. 

To kick-start these dialogues, Grand Valley State University is hosting its fifth Teach-In Thursday, Nov. 9, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on both the Allendale and Pew campuses. The event is comprised of 55 different sessions, each designed to spark a conversation about issues related to the theme of “Power, Privilege and Difficult Dialogues.” The event is co-sponsored by student senate and the University Academic Senate, and each presentation is a collaboration between faculty and students.

“The biggest thing is to create a conversation, to allow people to come together and talk about differences and important issues and just topics that are going on in today’s world," said Jonathan Bowman, GVSU student senate president. 

GVSU has been holding the annual Teach-In since 2014. The event was a response to certain incidents of bias taking place on campus as well as the 2011 campus climate survey. 

Topics such as race, ethnicity, orientation, ability, class and gender identity will be addressed in different Teach-In sessions. Melissa Baker-Boosamra, associate director of student life, civic engagement and assessment, will be among those presenting.

“These are, in some ways, abstract conversations,” she said. “But in some ways, they relate closely to the lives that we have on campus. … These conversations around are more difficult now than they were several years ago.”

Baker-Boosamra believes that incidents such as the white nationalist rallies and subsequent counter-protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August and the mass protests against police brutality and other issues sparked by Colin Kaepernick in the National Football League have polarized many. She said by attending Teach-In sessions, community members stand to gain a new perspective on these polarizing issues.

“We can learn about each other," Baker-Boosamra said. "While the topics are inherently challenging, it’s a step to building bridges.”

Baker-Boosamra is among the speakers for the “Confronting White Supremacy Through Consciousness Raising” session. The session is designed to enable conversation about topics such as white identity, white privilege and oppression. 

“We often see the same history with different sets of glasses,” she said. “(Through the Teach-In) we can learn about each other.”

Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, assistant professor of multimedia journalism at GVSU and another presenter, also believes the Teach-In provides an opportunity for community members to become more informed of the differences that exist at GVSU.

“It’s an important space for our community to come together and learn from each other and talk about these important issues,” he said. “In the past year or so, as a national or international community, people have been talking a lot about ‘Who has power? What is privilege?’ These are interesting and timely issues.”

Kelly Lowenstein is participating in his first Teach-In. He and a GVSU student will lead a session titled “The University of Makana: Khulu Radebe's Social Justice and Political Education on Robben Island.” The session will focus on the former South African freedom fighter Radebe and the lessons he learned when he was at the same age as many current GVSU students. 

“I’m excited to participate,” Kelly Lowenstein said. 

Baker-Boosamra’s and Kelly Lowenstein’s presentations are among 55 being given Nov. 9. The University Academic Senate and student senate, the two co-sponsors of the Teach-In, hope to inform students, faculty and staff about issues of inequity as well as raise awareness and spark discussions about topics such as oppression and social justice.  

“I think it’s very important, especially in today’s day and age, to communicate with others,” Bowman said. “You might not agree with certain things, but to be able to come together, especially at a university, that’s our purpose to have an open dialogue with different people.”

Baker-Boosamra also believes that community members will benefit by attending any of the discussions.

“I think that people stand to gain an opportunity to be open, to explore, to hear various perspectives, to learn from others and to develop a deeper level of empathy,” she said.

Community members can post about the Teach-In on social media using the hashtag #GVTeachIn17. The full schedule of events is listed at www.gvsu.edu/teach-in

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