The Social Justice Institute (SJI) presented its fourth biennial inter-generation Think Tank on “Educating for Struggle: State Violence, Then & Now” from Nov. 16 to Nov. 18. The conference, which presented the documentary “Wounded Knee” and keynote speakers Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Ibram X. Kendi, explored how state violence manifests itself in the oppression against those who are most marginalized in our society.
State violence was chosen as the theme of the Think Tank in light of police brutality in Cleveland last year.
Dr. Timothy Black, interim director of SJI, noted that while the topic was chosen prior to the 2016 presidential election, the dialogue on state violence had become something that he and others at SJI did not expect, especially following the display of white supremacy in Charlottesville and President Trump’s administration’s response (or lack thereof).
Centered around the theme of “Educating for Struggle,” the Think Tank aims to “[bring] people together from different spaces, from different communities, scholars, faculty and students to work through issues to create solidarity and to think about forms of action and strategies,” said Dr. Black.
Past topics for the SJI Think Tank include “Social Justice, Race and Profiling,” “Educating for Struggle in the Academy: Schools, Prisons, and Streets” and “Educating for Struggle: Social Justice, Empathy and Social Transformation.”
In her welcome and introduction, President Barbara Snyder spoke of the Think Tank as an opportunity to look “through the lens of the interrelationships of race, class and violence,” and stressed the importance of confronting the injustices that exist in today’s society.
“During the last year, events around race, gender, sexual identity, immigration status and gun violence, among others, remained at the forefront of social justice issues that we must continue to address,” she said.
Mentioning that Case Western Reserve University embraces social justice as a “deeply held value,” President Snyder reinforced the administration’s commitment to social justice and its support for SJI, especially in saying that the “research, scholarship, teaching and community engagement of Case Western Reserve Social Justice Institute remain ever important in helping us in our community make progress on these fronts.”
The Think Tank presented speakers and discussions on how state violence impacts different issues, such as mass incarceration, environmental justice, police brutality and the rights of indigenous people.
Dunbar-Ortiz, indigenous rights activist and historian, remarked that history of the United States is one of colonialism and spoke of the systematic and continued efforts of the U.S. government to marginalize and oppress the indigenous people. Presenting the treaty from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, she pointed out that Native Americans were victims of genocide by its definition: any act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.
Frank Abe spoke of the plight of Japanese-Americans during World War II, who were unjustly put in internment camps and stripped of their civil rights as U.S. citizens. Producer and director of “Conscience and the Constitution,” Abe brought light to the largest organized resistance to the wartime concentration camps. He also stressed that there is a certain moral responsibility to protect and stand up for Muslim Americans, who are facing the same violence, discrimination, and hatred that Japanese-Americans experienced 70 years ago.
Clips of the conference, which reverberated “echoes around race and ethnicity…around class, income equality and capital enterprise,” as Dr. Rhonda Williams puts it, will be available on the SJI website.