CHALLENGING SOCIAL INEQUALITY
Observing the memory and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Villanova University hosted its annual Freedom School event series. The lecturers, panels and interactive sessions as a part of Freedom School covered a range of social issues. Dr. King fought the racial injustices that oppressed him and the African-American community, and these issues were also damaging for the whole of American society. In that context, fifty-minute Freedom School sessions aim to continue a dialogue on present-day social inequalities: human rights, affirmative action, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and racism among other topics.
Many sessions tackled specific topics within these broad categories, often based on the professor’s experience or area of interest. Dr. Elizabeth Petit Mange and Dr. Amy McKeever hosted a talk entitled “Collecting Data on Race and Ethnicity: Is This Practice Still Necessary?”
Freshman Claire Graja reflects on her Freedom School session: “It’s definitely a contentious issue, whether national racial data banking is a critical tool for research or an unnecessary invasion of privacy. I’m so glad I attended this talk – it’s left me much better prepared to form an educated opinion on this increasingly relevant topic.”
In her talk entitled “Rosa Parks and the Modern Civil Rights Movement”, Dr. Crystal J. Lucky provided students with a refreshed perspective on Rosa Parks, firmly rooted in the harsh realities that primary school glossed over.
“[Dr. Lucky] presented Rosa Parks’ historic decision along with a timeline of powerful images and that left me in awe of how much I didn’t know of the extent of the hatred and violence that African Americans experienced during the Civil Rights movement”, says Freshman Linda Nguyen.
Professors also found the Freedom School experience rewarding. Dr. Eugene McCarraher gave a lecture entitled “The Mystical Body of Business: Why Corporations Have the Rights of Persons, and Why We Should Strip Them of Those Rights.
“I’ve been doing [Freedom School] for three or four years now,” comments Dr. McCarraher, “And this has been the best Q and A session I’ve had”.
One unique Freedom School Sessions was essentially a conflict-resolution improvisation workshop. Students from the Association for Change and Transformation (ACT) acted out tense social situations that students reported experiencing on campus (disclaimer: author was an ACT participant in the session). Intergroup Relations (IGR) faculty members then gave students the opportunity to insert themselves into the scenes and improve these situations. The faculty facilitated discussions based on the students’ decisions and comments, particularly acknowledging Villanova University’s racial and religious demographics are largely homogenous. Together, the faculty and students explored the consequences of standing by, being an ally, or intervening in situations where social groups were unfairly targeted.
The interactive session was an appropriate final session for the Freedom School because a larger philosophy seemed to be presenting itself as the sessions passed. Each of the power-packed fifty-minutes was an effort to combat today’s most pervasive and complicated issues, and yet, in explaining the burden, faculty and students showed themselves to be people committed to fighting injustice. Freedom School was a reminder of the simple notion that dialogue can change the way someone thinks, and changing the way someone thinks can change the way they act. There is no greater way for this campus to honor the legacy of Dr. King than with this demonstrated commitment to impact.
By Kinjal Dave ’17