In Day 2 of the Social Justice Symposium, Angela Davis and Gerry Medina discuss activism, privilege and Black Lives Matter

Courtesy of Columbia GSAPP via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA-2.5

On Friday, Jan. 29, the Associated Students Program Board (ASPB), African Student Programs (ASP) and HUB Programs collaborated to host the second part of their social justice symposium. 

The event began at 6 p.m with a brief workshop with Gerry Medina, the Leadership and Service Programs Coordinator at UCR. Music played as people began to enter the Zoom meeting. Rather than muting all of the participants, the first half of the symposium allowed everyone free access to their microphones and video displays. There were roughly over 60 people who attended this workshop.

The workshop was interactive, and when Medina was introduced, he announced that the purpose of this workshop was to serve as a “primer on the concept of social justice and what it means.” Medina guided the participants through different questions and encouraged people to answer them in the chat. 

In between questions, Medina also prepared an activity that would enable participants to check their privileges. Participants were encouraged to take out a piece of paper and map out their identity by examining which parts of their identities they think about the most and whether those parts granted them some sort of privilege in society. Medina stated that it was important to understand that “Life is difficult for everyone, but do you have institutional barriers in society along with those everyday difficulties?”

After Medina’s workshop, the Social Justice Symposium ended with a Q&A lecture with Angela Davis. Davis, a political activist and professor at UC Santa Cruz, was a keynote speaker for this event. Her Q&A session began at 7 p.m., and Ta’Neill M Hope was the first to interview Davis. In this first half of the lecture, Davis revealed that her interest in social justice started when she was very young. Davis stated, “I never had an epiphany. I never made a decision to be involved in these efforts. It is simply how we must live our lives.”

When asked how she combats burnout, Davis responded, “I think what has helped me is my sense of being a part of a larger community.” She claimed, “We learn how to think of ourselves primarily as individuals so one of the challenges is to resist that ideological turn.” 

The topic of our current school system was also brought up. Davis suggested, “Our system needs to be re-hauled, revamped and re-imagined.” Davis expressed her excitement over visiting some high schools with social justice embedded into their curriculum, and she argued that all schools should do the same. She firmly believed in “education not incarceration” and noted that our society needs to shift funding to build better schools and make free quality education available to everyone.

The questions then turned to current events, as Hope asked Davis how we should continue to push against police brutality after the number of protests that arose last year. Davis was awed by the people who chose to attend protests and to take steps towards progressing the Black Lives Matter movement last year, especially at the expense of their own health as the pandemic loomed over the world. She stated, “Victories come as a result of people who stood up and resisted” and that she imagined that “the work we’ve been doing in the past decades were to prepare for the future.”

Afterwards, the conversation transferred to the student Q&A section. One participant asked Davis how she dealt with the anxiety of meeting resistance during protests. Davis replied, “There have been so many times when I was really scared to death, but I learned that one can still act.” One student asked how to hold oppressors accountable. Davis replied that our society impulsively sends people to prison, and she argues that this only prevents us from brainstorming better ways to deal with people who have done wrong. She claims that many people who have been abused want and know how to re-educate abusers.

The final question came from Dominik Deciga who asked for Davis’ opinion on social media and performative activism. Davis replied, “I don’t know whether now is the time to criticize people for their performative activism.” However, she argued that technology could be useful in bringing attention to a cause, especially since it connects us to similar movements around the world. She claimed, “We have to use that technology productively and not allow it to use us.”

Both halves of the events were so engrossing and enlightening that they ended up going over time. There was a lot to cover on the topic of social justice, and though Davis was unable to answer everyone’s questions, she made a point to ask the ASPB to email her a copy of the questions so that she could read them. This symposium was an educational experience, and UCR should make an effort to host similar events.

ASPB will host its next event, “Mindfulness and Meditating with Raveena,” on Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. 

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