On Saturday, Feb. 6, hundreds of students from the Center for Civic Engagement and Learning (CCEL), representatives from the Interreligious Task Force (IRTF) and the Social Justice Institute (SJI) and community members from various other groups gathered in the The Kelvin + Eleanor Smith Foundation Ballroom at the Tinkham Veale University Center for the annual Social Justice Teach-in.
For IRTF this marked the 16th annual Social Justice Teach-In, but this is only the third year of collaboration between CCEL, the SJI and IRTF to host the event together. As attendees filed into the ballroom, the keynote speaker Rhonda Williams, founder and director of the SJI, explained to the crowd the definition of social justice.
“Social justice is something students hear a lot about but not all students have a good idea of what it actually means,” said Angela Lowery, assistant director of CCEL. “Dr. Rhonda was a really great keynote in that she just laid out a foundation for people about what social justice actually means, how it’s different than charity, philanthropy and service.”
After the keynote, community members old and young were allowed to choose between over 30 smaller sessions that ranged from presentations on fair trade and mental health to discussions involving the upcoming Republican National Convention. Many of these presentations were put together by students from campus organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Health and the CCEL Executive Council.
Jeffrey Antione, a second-year student and member of the CCEL Executive Council, was one of the session leaders, presenting on factors other than education which impact people’s social class. Daniel Ryave, a fourth-year student and member of the CCEL Executive council, organized a panel of professionals that work in postgraduate service programs like Peace Corps, CityYear and Americorp programs.
In addition to the presentations and discussions on social justice topics, the fair-trade company Equal Exchange had a booth where they promoted the importance of buying fair-trade products.
IRTF hosted a “coffee jolt” during the last 30 minutes of the Teach-In, where IRTF co-director Chrissy Stonebraker-Martinez announced that the organization is hoping to give groups of students or young people seed money to build and create a fair trade supply chain in their organizations. Stonebraker-Martinez’s family is from Colombia, an area affected by unfairly low wages for producers of basic products such as coffee, tea and other goods, and she explained that this institutionalized oppression had led to her move to Cleveland and her involvement with IRTF.
“This year we had almost 600 people, two years ago we had just over 300 people,” said Stonebraker-Martinez. “We have almost doubled in size and there are people who are learning about what CCEL and the Social Justice Institute and all these other great organizations are doing on Case’s campus.”
Many students also felt satisfied with the results of this event.
“I think it’s really good that we have this Teach-In because I think social justice is something that not all of us are aware of but not many people act upon,” said Christina Wong, a fourth-year student and CCEL scholar. “So having this Teach-In really helps us dive into the reason why we do community service … and it helps us be more aware of what’s going on around us as well.”
Correction: At 12 p.m. on Feb. 12, this story was changed to reflect that the teach-in was co-sponsored by the SJI along with CCEL and the IRTF.