The fourth annual Social Justice Leadership Conference was held earlier this month on April 5. Students in attendance were given the opportunity to visit different sessions of the conference and listen to different speakers talk about various issues regarding social justice. Some of the session speakers included were Vanessa Fiaud, Michael McBroom, Nick Gerlich, Aurora Ortiz, Nune Perez, Skip Chisum, Marty Kuhlman and Craig Watts.
The speakers discussed a variety of topics such as successful networking in a social world, college transition for veterans, race relations at WTAMU and incorporating inclusion. This year’s featured guest speaker was journalist and author Claudia Kolker. Kolker’s topic for the session was “America’s Immigrant Advantage: How We Can Benefit From Newcomers’ Secrets About Health, Money and Family.”
Kolker is an award-winning reporter and the author of “The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn From Newcomers to America About Health, Happiness and Hope.” Her book was chosen as one of O Magazine’s Ten Titles to Pick Up Now and the book has been profiled in the New York Times and on PBS Newshour. It was also Amazon.com’s number one bestseller on immigration in Jan. 2013. As a freelancer in El Salvador from 1992 to 1995, she covered the Salvadoran postwar recovery and social issues throughout Central America, Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. She later spent four months in India and Pakistan writing on democracy and diversity.
In her adopted hometown of Houston, Kolker has worked as Los Angeles Times Houston bureau chief, a member of the Houston Chronicle editorial board and deputy director of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders. She graduated from Harvard and has studied at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and El Colegio de Mexico. Her work has been published in O Magazine, The Economist, The Sunday Telegraph of London, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Slate and Salon. She is currently a contributing editor for the editorial page of the Houston Chronicle, where she first created the immigrant affairs beat in 1997.
With all of the speakers in attendance and all of the information being covered, Dr. Anand Bertrand Commissiong, assistant professor of Political Science, said he hoped students’ horizons would be expanded. Most speakers at the event felt similarly to Commissiong and said that no single session would be the most important to students.
“The whole conference is really a packaged deal and I think that students will benefit from the overall experience,” Skip Chisum, Director of Student Activities, said.
The conference highlighted some of the many issues that are faced both locally and internationally toward a socially just world, meaning a world where the worth of each person is recognized and valued regardless of ethnicity or national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic background, physical abilities, religion and other differences without any prejudice. Social justice in its broadest sense is inclusive of human rights, philosophical orientations, access to resources and equal opportunity for all.
Another purpose of the conference was to encourage and promote diversity throughout the University and community. WT realizes a diverse community of learners enriches the educational experience and opportunities of all its members. Because of this, WT is committed to the goal of promoting mutual respect, understanding and appreciation of the uniqueness of all people. Students attending the conference also felt that it helped to prepare them for what could lie ahead in their careers.
“With the social justice conference, we’re trying to create a climate of success for students,” Aurora Ortiz, senior Political Science and Advertising and Public Relations major, said. “Me personally being a student, I just wish the best for my peers and I feel that this conference has helped them to better know what the job market and the social world will be like and how they can use all of the help that WT offers to them, so they can become better prepared to be a better work force for our country, because that’s definitely what we need.”
Diversity and job markets were not the only things focused on at the conference.
“Students will learn about civil rights and college athletics,” Dr. Keith Price, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Sociology, said. “They will also learn about the problems that many people have in trying to ‘fit in.’ The conference will help students understand that the achievement of social justice takes work from all of us. Social justice does not just happen, it has to be achieved. Students should be prepared to contribute to that process in the society in which they live.”