Social Justice in Higher Education Topic of Conference Panel

By Loukaia Taylor ’22

The second annual Inclusive Leadership Conference in April included a panel discussion with Dr. Donnetrice Allison, chair of the Africana Studies program, and Committee on Campus Diversity & Inclusive Excellence (CCDIE) members Dr. Guia Calicdan-Apostle & Dr. Esther Lawrence. 

SETH RICHARDS (CCDIE member and panel moderator): What does social justice mean to you, personally? How does it inform your work here at Stockton?

DR. DONNETRICE ALLISON: It means everything to me. So, coming up as an undergrad at a very similar institution to Stockton University, we were always essentially protesting for what we needed, as there are certain underrepresented communities that don’t often get what we need unless we make others think about it. I think that much of the progress made in this country is because people pushed for it, and so that is what social justice is all about ─ pushing for those things that we need, including all voices and making sure those things happen ─ and so much of that starts with college students. A lot of those things that have happened historically would not have happened without the insistence of young people saying, ‘Hey, wait, we noticed something that's necessary, and we want to make it happen.’ So, what do we do? We organize, and we push. You guys have more power than you realize, and it's so important that we up here help you to exercise that.

RICHARDS: Can you talk a little bit about policy and how we can ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion are prioritized in organizational policy and practice?

DR. ESTHER LAWRENCE: Policies are put in place for a reason, procedures, and so on, but you also have to have benchmarks and metrics when you're creating policies to make sure that you're able to assess that things are getting done and that everyone is felt to be included. You want to make sure that policies are being created so that things are happening equitably, meaning that everyone is going to be able to benefit from those policies. (Policy analysis) should happen within communities, just to make sure that everybody is staying consistent, fair and equitable.

RICHARDS: Can you talk about some strategies and some skills for dismantling what seem like systems that are really ensconced or codified in the places where we work and live?

DR. GUIA CALICDAN-APOSTLE: I think before we talk about strategies, we have to think about cognitive dissonance – we have so much reality or unreality going on, like fake news, and we’re becoming blinded by some of these things, right? So, for one of those strategies, I am assuming that we all have critical thinking skills and that we are able to think clearly: find resources and gain a balanced view of what’s going on before you speak. Other strategies: be strong, bold and prepared if you’re going to be arguing on an issue. Capitalize on your resources like your faculty members – they have individual narratives, they come from different places, and they have done great things. 

Seth Richards, Guia Calicdan-Apostle, Esther Lawrence and Donnetrice Allison
(L-R): Richards, Calicdan-Apostle, Lawrence and Allison. Photo by Susan Allen.

RICHARDS: I have one final question that I'll ask the same of each of you: There are so many different causes, movements and important things that it, sometimes, can almost feel like they take energy from each other. Can you talk about how, for whatever individual movements and other things are happening, we can coalesce and foster a togetherness without taking away from any one of those different priorities or movements?

CALICDAN-APOSTLE: Well, I mean, when it comes to movements, we started with the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter, but if you look at the Asian perspective, we, too, have made a lot of contributions to this nation. But there are 40-45 countries in Asia, and when you see them, you see that they haven’t really gotten together – they’re in silos. Why is that? Because they react based just on what they see in the media: when someone is hurt, we rally, which is great, but there is no sustainability with that. That means we have to continue to build upon others’ organizations and share our experiences to make our organizations a more unified organization.

LAWRENCE: Basically, no matter what social justice initiative you're working toward, I want to say to just keep your foot on the gas. Don't give up, and don't give in. Don't take your foot off the gas because our ancestors didn't: there's always going to be some sort of people out there who want to keep us oppressed, and that's for a reason, so guess what? We are not going to give in. We're going to keep pushing. We're going to keep fighting, and we're going to keep hoping for justice.

ALLISON: I agree 100% that you know we can't take our foot off the gas because a lot of times when we get complacent, there are powers that be out there that try to start moving pieces around the board, so that's important. But I would also add to find that thing you're passionate about and focus on fighting for that thing, but at the same time, don't overwhelm yourself. I think that sometimes those of us who are really into social justice and all of that try to get too involved, and then we overwhelm ourselves over here doing this, and then we're doing that. Here’s a quick and funny reflection: a friend of mine who I went to undergrad with posted some pictures on social media, and I realized that I wasn't in any of the party pictures – I was only in the protest pictures. I was like, ‘Well, dang, I guess I didn't party enough.’

Students left the panel eager to see what else the conference had in store for them and reflected on the lessons they’ll take with them from the panel discussion. 

The conference included a keynote speech by Ismail Amir of iAM Legend, LLC

A faculty panel on social justice in higher education

Students attending a breakout session

Students attending a breakout session

Students attending a breakout session

Students attending a breakout session

Mo Keane won the Inclusive Student of the Year Award

Dr. Christopher Catching won the Inclusive Staff/Faculty Award

Visual Arts major Christyna “Chrissy” Howard attended the conference last year and was glad to see how much the program has grown since last year. She felt that Dr. Allison’s experience was relatable and appreciated the advice.

“(One lesson I learned was) most definitely fighting for what's right, but still having time to have fun,” Howard said. That happens all the time, even with an activism project that I'm working on now in one of my classes. I’ve been doing so much stuff for this, and people are like, ‘Hey, you want to go out?’ I think it's very important to have a work and life, or social project and life balance.”

Rutgers University – Camden students Robert Bayard from Pennsauken and Topher Nabacan from Collingswood both praised the conference overall but specifically highlighted the panel discussion when asked about their experiences.

“The conference has been incredible, and, actually, it's kind of a coincidence because I'm currently writing my second research paper on D&I policies. I learned a lot from the three doctors on the panel,” Bayard said. “The conference, in general, just has been incredible. The band, Young Picassos, was incredible. It’s so organized, and everybody's been so nice. It's very informative, and I appreciated the experience.”

“Yeah, I agree with Rob that this is kind of a unique and serendipitous time for this to be happening because I'm at a time where I have to lock in and refocus myself,” Nabacan said, referencing the conference’s keynote speaker, Ismail Amir of iAM Legend, LLC. “I also thought it was really beautiful that there was a Filipina on the panel – in a lot of D&I talks, there are Asian people involved, but not ones that are like me. So, I thought that was a really great connection.” 

Loukaia Taylor

About the Contributor

Loukaia Taylor is a multicultural communication specialist in University Relations & Marketing, an alumna of the Communication Studies program and a member of the Campus Committee on Diversity and Inclusive Excellence

On-Campus Conference Expands, Full of Opportunities

April 9, 2024

On Friday, April 9, this year's Inclusive Leadership Conference hosted over 100 students from Stockton and area high schools and colleges.
On Friday, April 9, this year's Inclusive Leadership Conference hosted over 100 students from Stockton and area high schools and colleges.

Galloway, N.J. – “You see, the reality is that for as long as I can remember, I believed and thought that I was born to lose.”

As the keynote speaker for the April 5 Inclusive Leadership Conference walked across the stage, students in the Campus Center Theatre gazed at the man and the photo of his family projected on the screen behind him. The man – Ismail Amir – talked about how he was orphaned at age 11 and how the tragedies he experienced made him take life as it came and strive only for the family behind him.

However, Amir knew that his purpose included more, and he founded iAM Legend, LLC, where he conducts workshops and trainings that encourage students to take life by the reins and become active participants in their life journeys. According to Amir, taking control of his life meant first taking control of his mind. 

He compared his mind to a bucket of water and negative thoughts to drops of black food coloring. Even a drop of the dye “corrupted” the bucket, turning translucent water into a murky brown – demonstrating the impact of negative thoughts. 

“I never in a million years would have imagined or dreamed that I would have the opportunity to be a CEO or to run my own business,” Amir said, picking up a full pitcher of water. “You see, what has to happen in our lives in order for us to become CEOs is we have to find a way to begin to wash out these negative thoughts.”

As he poured the entire pitcher into the bucket, students were shocked to see how much water it took for the bucket to become translucent again. He encouraged students to consider ways to flush out negativity in their thoughts and reach their fullest potential.