Campus News

Panel considers how students can be better social justice advocates

As children, we are “sold” the pathway of the American dream, but this unrealistic vision does not paint the full picture, according to Walter Bond, executive director of Teach for America-Milwaukee.

A panel, mediated by Bond, titled “The Urgency of Now: Perspectives on Leading for Social Change,” assembled Wednesday evening to speak about racial and social justice and its impact on the UW-Madison campus.

Brittany Packnett, Teach for America’s vice president of national community alliances and one of TIME Magazine’s “12 new faces of black leadership,” stressed the urgency of fighting for social change.

“If not now, when? And if not you, then whom?” Packnett asked the audience.

In Packnett’s passionate first remarks, she discussed the emptiness of buzzwords that were once important in the social justice community: diversity, equality, inclusion, ally, unity, woke and resistance. However archaic they may be, Packnett said students can still turn these words into activism.

“[This event] is [for students] to remain energized. The asset of going to college is that you can explore all of your beliefs and your activism in a particularly safe space,” Packnett said. “But as you get ready to go out into the world, that safety dissipates. Remaining energized will continue to make a change in the world beyond the campus community.”

The panelists explained what is required of students to change the course of current political situations. They detailed three important facets of being a social justice advocate: knowing one’s history so as not to repeat the past, leading from one’s own assets and talents and voting in local elections.

Sas?n?hsaeh Pyawasay, diversity coordinator for the College of Science & Engineering at the University of Minnesota, praised UW-Madison for being open to social justice reform.

“Students have a voice here. The administration listens differently here than they might in other places,” Pyawasay, an enrolled member of the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin, said.

Arturo Diaz, an organizational development specialist at UW-Madison’s Multicultural Student Center, echoed the sentiment as a voice from inside the administration.

Packnett connected to the audience, a group mainly consisting of UW-Madison juniors and seniors, by sharing a quote: “You had a purpose before anyone had an opinion.” She urged students to go after what they were “meant to do.”

Packnett also stressed that while social justice organizers are important, getting a large group of people involved is necessary for a movement to thrive.

“Protest movements thrive on campuses because you all have the numbers to shut down administrative buildings,” she said. “Ten percent may plan the protest, but you need 100 percent to [succeed].”

All three panelists praised the UW-Madison community for its activism.

“UW is a campus full of folks that will change the world,” Packnett said. “It’s an honor to have a conversation with people who are committed to doing that.”

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