A Field Guide to Social Justice on Campus
By Ashley Emert
June 10, 2011
Child soldiers are forced to fight for their lives—and sometimes against their families. Earthquakes rock major cities, destroying thousands of homes and killing many. Women are promised a new life, but end up forced into a life of prostitution. Families hike for miles to get to a water source, only to become ill from the unclean water. Millions without homes wonder where they'll sleep at night.
These problems and more are affecting people around the world right now. While some of these crises occur thousands of miles away, many people within a five-mile radius of your campus will experience some form of need today. It may be difficult to find the time and energy to devote to helping others during your first year of college, but it should be made a priority. The earlier you include social justice in your college life, the easier it will be to maintain it all four years and into the "real world" after you graduate.
From hosting events to raise awareness and funds for causes across the globe, to volunteering at local soup kitchens, college has a built-in focus on social justice, and brings with it a veritable smorgasbord of opportunities to get involved. We've put together a guide to help you navigate this new realm of practical, everyday steps as well as what organizations to look into helping in the long term. These five categories are also the focus of our new social justice magazine, REJECT APATHY.
The faces of poverty can be seen anywhere—from city street corners to the shoppers in a grocery store. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 43.6 million Americans were living in poverty in 2009. Chances are you’ll encounter homeless people near your college, and there is most likely a homeless shelter and/or soup kitchen in your city. One way to get involved and help those living in poverty is to seek out a campus group that feeds the homeless or volunteers on a regular basis at a local shelter. This could either be a group unique to your college, or a campus chapter of a national organization, like Convoy of Hope. If there isn’t one, consider establishing one.
While helping the poor, it’s important to remember not to treat them like a cause. Get to know them as people. If you find that you see the same people on the streets in your city on a regular basis, don’t just hand them a dollar and keep going—ask them their name. Rather than giving them cash to buy a meal, invite them to get food with you. Sit down with them and find out their story. It could be the difference between perpetuating the lifestyle they find themselves stuck in, and helping give them a way out of it.
Something else you might notice on campus could be an excess of food in the dining hall or cafeteria. Contact your college’s director of dining services and ask what the process is for recycling or donating food that isn’t used by the school. See if there might be a way the food could be donated to a local shelter, or if they’d be willing to let you take it to the streets yourself and distribute it. (This might involve checking with the city to see if there are permits involved in such distribution.)
On a global level, poverty is a vicious cycle millions find themselves trapped in. Microfinance is one way they can remove themselves, though. This system gives low-income individuals a loan to help start their own business, which they then pay back over the next several years. Microfinance organizations like Kiva and Acumen Fund have been on the rise in recent years as this method of fighting poverty has gained popularity.
Breaking the cycle of poverty can help bring an end to many other issues, not the least of which is modern-day slavery.
Loss of Innocents
Between current newspaper stories about modern slavery both in the States and around the globe, and the astonishing statistics recently released about abortion, the loss of the innocent and their innocence has been brought into the public eye more recently. There are upwards of 27 million people trapped in slavery today, and an estimated 100,000 children are in the sex trade in the U.S., as well as countless others trafficked into the country for forced labor.
The first step is educating yourself. Not For Sale, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, seeks to educate people to become everyday abolitionists. They have several different resources on their website specifically geared toward college students to help you get started. In addition to fighting slavery stateside, they help women who have been forced into prostitution in other countries.
On another local level, try to find the time to become a Big Brother or Big Sister, or volunteer at an elementary or middle school to make sure kids have a good, reliable influence in their lives. Stories have come out recently about young girls who rebel and seek approval from someone other than their parents, only to be duped into believing an older man is interested in them. Once she runs away with him, though, she finds herself trapped in prostitution. Ensuring girls have a positive influence in their life reduces the chance of this happening.
Just like the young women and men who fall victim to trafficking, unborn and unwanted children need others to advocate for their value. Recent research has revealed startling abortion rates. A study earlier this year found that 40 percent of pregnancies in New York City every year are aborted—two times the national average. Organizations like Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Charities seek to help women get through their pregnancies and then go through the adoption process, rather than have an abortion. Do some research in your city and see if there are similar organizations that counsel women.Slavery and other forms of lost innocence can only survive when they aren’t discussed. Bringing this issue to light guarantees that one day slavery will truly be abolished.
Another hidden issue that has come to the forefront is that of violence and unjust war. When the atrocities in Darfur made their way into the media, it was one of the first times such news hit the mainstream circuit—and it has only been on the rise.
One major element of this issue is children forced to fight in wars around the world. Children in Uganda are kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army, while others in Asian countries such as Burma and the Philippines are forced to join military service. While child soldiers are typically found in different countries, there are ways to raise awareness on your campus to help free them. Look into hosting a showing of Invisible Children—which exposes the plight of children kidnapped and forced into war in Uganda—or As We Forgive—which documents the long road to forgiveness after the genocide in Rwanda. At the event, speak to the audience about this difficult issue and how they can help.
A local violence issue is domestic abuse. One statistic says a woman is assaulted or beaten in the U.S. every nine seconds. To help minimize this problem in your area, or to help women who are part of this statistic, seek out a local women’s shelter or search for one through the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website.
Whether it’s a child running for his life through the jungles of Africa, or a woman deciding to make a new life for herself in the U.S., there’s something you can do to help them on your campus.
Taking care of the environment might seem like a “back burner” issue in comparison to others, or perhaps just a trendy cause. But creation care is both a scriptural mandate and an urgent need. From news about the latest natural disaster to seeing a local park taken over by trash, caring for the Earth has become another important issue.
An easy way to fight this problem in your everyday life is to pick up any trash you see on the ground while walking to class. If there aren’t enough garbage cans on campus, try talking to a dean about getting more trash and recycling bins placed on the grounds. Also, ask what the process is for recycling on campus. Obviously, a lot of paper will be used and consequently thrown away. Make sure the proper steps are in place to reduce, reuse and recycle on campus.
Renewal is a student-led creation care organization that hopes to inspire, connect and equip Christians to answer God’s call to be good stewards of His creation. The organization hosts a day of prayer where students around the globe pray for restoration and peace—both for the environment and for other social justice issues affected by it.
Creation care goes beyond the usual turning out the lights when you leave a room (though that’s still an important step). Making it a point to include such small steps while also pursuing bigger changes, like community recycling centers, can make a huge difference in ensuring the Earth stays healthy for generations to come.
While great strides have been made in the world of preventable disease, there is still a long road ahead. Surprisingly, the answer to ending most diseases is simple: clean water. Nearly 1 billion people are currently living without clean water, meaning they can’t wash their hands or bathe properly, leading to more disease spread throughout their communities.
Organizations like Nuru Intl., which seeks to help end extreme poverty, hold campus events where students walk with a five-gallon bucket filled with water for a certain amount of time or distance. This action demonstrates what millions of people go through on a daily basis to bring water—which is most likely unclean—to their family. Try connecting with an organization to hold a similar event on your campus.
While many diseases are water-borne, malaria is passed from person to person via mosquitoes that are infected with the disease. World Vision ACT:S, the organization’s network of young people living according to the Book of Acts, now has a campaign called ACT:S to End Malaria that educates people on the far- reaching effects of the disease. Through ACT:S, college students can host events to raise awareness and funds for bed nets that keep people from being bitten and infected with malaria.
Whether hosting an event on campus to inform your community about a humanitarian issue happening on the other side of the world, going into your city to help at a local organization or picking up trash on the way to class, getting involved and engaged in any way possible is an important facet to add to your college life. Educating yourself on social justice issues is just as important as the degree and education you’ll receive at the end of your time in school—and it will prove priceless in the long run.