Students present creative discussion of social justice issues

Friday, October 19, 2018

Social justice issues are a controversial topic, but Professor Darris R. Means encourages students in his First-Year Odyssey seminar to embrace issues about which they are passionate. In his class, “Rise Up and Speak Out: Understanding and Addressing Social Inequities,” students are challenged to choose and research a social justice issue and present it in a creative format. Professor Means tasked his 15 students with preparing extensive research in a written paper, then creating a symbolic representation of the issue. The students showcased their work in a collective presentation called “Stay Woke” Symposium in the Intersection at Tate on Sept. 26. Students, faculty, and staff observed the students’ projects and offered moral support for their presentations, which included visual artwork, poetry, speeches, and performances that covered gender equality, homelessness, racism, sexual assault, and other controversial societal issues.

An art gallery was arranged around the room displaying the students’ drawings, paintings, illustrations, collages, and three-dimensional representations. Descriptions detailed the symbolic representations and reasoning behind the student’s chosen social justice issue. Each student described their representational strategy to the attendees who visited each display in the room, creating engaging dialogue on their topics.  

For Caitlyn Kinard’s three-dimensional representation, Boxed In, the visual tackled the issue of homelessness. “I wanted to focus on homeless people’s outreach for help,” Caitlyn said.

In her display, a small cardboard box signifies the person’s homelessness, with outreached hands emanating from the dark inside of the box, symbolizing their cry for help. Caitlyn wrote associations on the outside of the box with stereotypical descriptions of homeless people, juxtaposing wording from actual homeless signs on the inside of the box. Caitlyn wanted more exposition of homelessness, an issue she feels is often overlooked.

Mika Medina’s drawing Spot the Difference represents gender equality by comparing the anatomy of the upper body of males and females. "Spot the Difference"

“I wanted to show the equality between the male and female human body forms, since the female body is typically oversexualized in society,” she said.

She chose to draw in pencil, rather than colored paint or marker, in order to showthat the subtle differences in anatomy. Her theory is that the anatomy of the human body should not create gender inequality.

For the performance portion, students presented their issues in a speech, poem, or  dance. Khloe Hughes chose to perform an interpretive dance titled Human. She focussed on the “neglect of sexual assault prosecution,” and felt her issue was best represented by dance. Her dance emphasized the nature of the human body, and humanized the issue of injustice for female victims of sexual assault. The visual representation showed the aftermath and the impact of sexual assault on its victims. "Human"

Each student desired to bring awareness to their issue of choice in order to incite societal change. The students hope that continual emphasis on these social justice issues will educate those who may be unaware these issues exist, and maintain . Overall, Professor Means encouraged his students to think critically while researching these issues that plague society, in hopes that one day societal change will occur.