A Multitude of Voices
Students ‘walk the talk’ in new Social Justice House
by Anisah Hashmi ’11
November 23, 2010
Social Justice House residents leap forward with visions of change.
Each year the social and political climate at Dickinson College is determined by its ever-changing student body. This year, Devin Beaugureau ’13 used her vision to transform an ordinary building into a center for diverse ideas.
The new Social Justice House brings a fresh verve to the Stuart House on West Street. Therein resides a community of activist-oriented students who want to build a physical sense of kinship, create resourceful dialogue and advocate for social justice in the Dickinson community.
Although the college hosts a variety of active special-interest houses, Beaugureau’s idea arose from a perceived lack of unity and collaboration among these organizations. Having separate residences for specific causes “left little space for students who wanted to explore different but interrelated areas of social justice,” says Beaugureau, who is the house manager.
Elizabeth Farner, assistant director of campus life, and Susannah Bartlow, director of the Women’s Center, collaborated with Beaugureau to transform her idea into reality. Residing in the house are 31 students representing a multitude of organizations, including the African American Society, Alpha Phi Omega, Secular Students United, Feminist Collective, Latin American Club and Spectrum, among others.
“They support each other and learn from one another in a way that they wouldn’t get to if they weren’t living together,” Farner says. She hopes this new community will infuse Dickinson’s campus with a passion for justice.
Every week, house members lead conversations on topics ranging from Ecofeminism and sexual-assault issues to corporations’ human-rights violations. They gather around coffee tables in the basement on couches or sit cross-legged on the floor. Everyone is welcome—even dogs. Susan Rose ’77, director of the Community Studies Center, brought her own pet when invited to discuss gender violence in relationships.
“Ideally, it’s a space where there’s no sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, xenophobia or other bigotries,” says Tessa Bowler ’13. “You’re not shot down for your ideas.” Over time, Bowler anticipates the group will influence social programming and create a safer campus climate for Dickinson students.
Bartlow, who advises the Social Justice House residents, believes that students will learn how to “walk the talk” or use their social and environmental awareness to fuel their activism.
“There is a benefit to having institutional representation on campus,” she says. “If all the structured [social] opportunities we offered were apolitical, that would send a message. This group normalizes social justice and legitimates a conversation that might otherwise be cast as radical.”
It is in this living lab that activists like Isaiah Muhammad ’13, Oscar Monge ’13, Mary Ann Eggers ’13 and Max Weylandt ’13 find inspiration for their work. On Nov. 16, they brought Ray Rogers, director of Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, to speak on human and environmental abuses perpetuated by the Coca-Cola Corp. in developing nations. In addition to the event, they offered alternative carbonated drinks in the Dining Hall for students to indulge in.
Through these activist pursuits and community-building exercises, the group hopes to challenge students to grapple with complex concepts outside of the classroom and motivate others to act.
“It is the purest form of what a special-interest house should be,” says Farner. “It exemplifies that students can gather together and create community, but also give back to Dickinson.”
Learn more about Dickinson’s special-interest housing.