Social Justice Initiative

Black Lives Matter protest photo
Photo: Marcella David

As we honor the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and, through him, those who advanced and are advancing civil rights, we are reminded of his work and messages about racial justice and nonviolent activism. The divisive presidential election, storming of the Capitol; nationwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others are a call to continue our work as a college to confront our nation’s and institution’s legacy of racism.

At a time when our national identity is in question, as an institution of higher education, we are compelled to act. Columbia has a long-standing commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and we continue this effort with new conversations within our community regarding the many ways for the college to address its own systems and practices, which have perpetuated inequitable access to resources and opportunities for marginalized groups within our institution. This work was elevated last fall when the college introduced the Antiracism Transformation Team (ArTT).

The new college-wide Social Justice Initiative (SJI) is designed to expose and address underlying disparities within the College’s institutional framework. The new Social Justice Initiative (SJI), housed in the Office of the Provost, will present the college community with opportunities to investigate the role of social justice in creative practice and the role of creatives in advancing social change.

SJI will give the college an opportunity to practice advancing social justice at the institutional level by providing a context for ongoing intellectual college-wide discussions featuring guest speakers and lecturers. It will highlight the work of faculty whose teaching and research positions social justice at the core of their creative practice. It will also showcase student work through special projects and the development of new curricula. Through the new Social Justice Initiative, we will leverage our position in the South Loop to push the conversation regarding social justice beyond our boundaries.

The college’s new Social Justice Initiative will help us understand and address long-standing gaps in achievement between white students and students of color at the college and develop and fund new support structures and resources needed to eliminate these achievement gaps over time.

The Initiative is an ongoing project, with our initial focus placed on Diversity, Anti-Racism and Social Change. There are three major elements to the programming for Spring 2021:

A Social Justice Dialog: What does social justice mean? What does it mean to be an anti-racist? What does “diversity” mean today? Does “diversity” continue to be a relevant term? Using the CCC Engage platform, we will build opportunities for faculty, staff and students to connect on these and other topics. Collectively, we must share perspectives on current world and national events and consider how scholarly and creative practices can shape our world.

Perspectives Conversation: We will engage campus leaders in in-depth conversations around social justice and national events.

Creative Approaches to Social Justice: We are planning three programs to provide a unifying intellectual context for discernment and supports student work and development at creatives and leaders. Programs will be sponsored by each school, but open to the entire college.

An important element of this initiative is our commitment to engage members of the community in our programming efforts. Our community will help shape the conversation and programs; your input in the planning will be as vital as your participation in the programs we develop together.

The SJI steering committee includes Steven H. Corey, dean, LAS; Eric Freedman, dean, SMA; Rosita Sands, dean, SFPA; Shawn Wax, vice president of development and alumni relations; John Pelrine, dean of student affairs; Keisha Cowen, senior director of campus communications; and Rhiannon Koehler; communication manager.