Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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‘Social justice’ far from misleading

“‘Social justice’ just misleading rhetoric,” by Dr. W. Lee Hansen on Feb. 2, is a showcase of the fear and opposition expressed by those who currently enjoy the power and privilege in our society and our campus.

The article begins by offering that the “latest code words … are ‘white privilege’ and ‘social justice.'” The author claims that these are new concepts to the University of Wisconsin. Actually, white privilege can be traced back to as early as 1735, when Swedish biologist Charles Linnaeus published “General System of Nature.” He created the concept of race categorization and, hence, white privilege began 270 years ago.

Additionally, consider some local and recent examples. Central College is hosting its 6th Annual White Privilege Conference. At UW, students and advocates created programs such as the Multicultural Student Coalition because of racism caused by white privilege. In 2003, UW hosted its first student retreat, entitled Understanding Privilege, which mainly explored white skin privilege. Although Dean Hong is a superb advocate and change agent, she has not brought the ideas of social justice and white privilege to our campus.

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Dr. Hansen’s article proposes, “until ‘social justice’ can be precisely and understandably defined, programs to promote this goal cannot hope to succeed.” Well, is it really that difficult to define it? Social justice is a system, a process, and an end result where all members of society have equal access to resources and benefit from them equally without regard to their identity, specifically race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, class and age.

Who would be against such a utopian-sounding goal? Why would anyone be against striving for creating or contributing to creating such an environment?

It also must be asked: does the logic of Dr. Hansen’s argument hold true? He states that the “indoctrination occurring in ‘social justice’ programs would go against everything this university represents.” It would “inhibit the search for truth through the ‘sifting and winnowing process.'” However, he fails to adequately explicate why or how. He threatens and ignites fear in all “civil” and “tolerant” white people, by asserting, “It would undermine the central purpose of the university …” Again, how? If we have a welcoming environment, where scholars from different backgrounds unite in discussion, debate and dialogue, how can we not discover, disseminate knowledge and develop? This argument fails to meet the rigors of scientific proof and falls well short.

Finally, he states that what really bothers him about social justice is that it is missing “universally known” truths. He offers these phrases: “common courtesy, politeness, civility, tolerance and respect for others.” These seem like code words meaning “act like, be like, and assimilate into being white/men, like me.” It is so antiquated and misdirected to strive for tolerance; the concept of equality is a truly universal truth instead of the mere tolerance of those with different backgrounds.

There are many people at UW who will keep advocating for social justice. They realize that if we do not do it, we are done. Social justice is the only way we can uphold what this university represents. It is the only way that we are able to “search for truth through the ‘sifting and winnowing’ process.”

In a world that is dominated and operated by a select group of people, how do we bring about reality, truth, scholarship or progress? Shouldn’t higher educational institutions not only attempt to contribute to improving society, but also lead the charge? Universities have the responsibility to consider, support and improve the communities in which they are a part of. Our community is nowhere near equitable, fair or just. Hence, social justice is the only way.

Dora Valentin with Lori Berquam, Philip Tompkins and Cindy Havens ([email protected]) are aspiring social-justice advocates.

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