Zooming Towards Justice

A Brief Comment on a “Making Good Trouble” Zoom at Regis

At the end of a recent zoom session at Regis we were asked by the facilitator to write one concrete action which, as a consequence of the hour-plus discussion, we might resolve to make. I decided to write this blogpost. I want to celebrate that student-led zoom and add some comments I’d not had time to express during the discussion.

I hope that what follows might be of interest to the general reader in terms of what’s going on at Regis and at many other (Jesuit as well as secular) universities in response to the many crises of justice we face: on race, polarization, inequality, climate change, and so on. I hope, too, that it might be a form of affirmation for those involved at Regis though what I write clearly represents the thoughts of only one participant in the meeting.

• This particular session was the first of a “Making Good Trouble” series for the Regis community organized by the University’s Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, History Prof. Nicki Gonzales. Titled after an historic “word” from now-deceased Rep. John Lewis, the goal of the series is to bring together different persons on campus (I think there were some 40 in the first session, a speaking-panel of ten so students and retired faculty, and 30 or more students and staff in the audience) to discuss issues students and faculty must deal with and to discern about “making good trouble” in response. It was, to my thinking, an expression of her passion for the importance of history that led Prof. Gonzalez to decide to kick off the series with a panel of retired faculty discussing their own experience of “making good trouble” during the 60s and since. And it was also my sense that a passion for justice among some student leaders actually brought the series to life.

• The hour-and-a-half went quickly, with spirit-filled and serious exchanges between young and old. Which makes it hard for me to summarize a very good conversation. As always, the elders spoke too much, but student leaders on the panel gave balance to the conversation. I know that I personally was not only impressed with student voices articulating their justice-focused studies and activities. I was also very impressed with their (the students’) use of the zoom vehicle (and of the internet more broadly) for facilitating this conversation. I’m retired now almost 11 years and can’t help but envy the present campus for the widespread “digital literacy” which makes such “zooming towards justice” possible. (Prof. Gonzales mentioned that doing “something like this” has long been a dream of hers.)

• I remember that one of the questions raised by an elder concerned the prevalence of digital/social media among students. Might this leave many students locked into “their own” information silos and sources, made thereby into consumer relativists led into indifference about justice or just swept up in some craze of agitation and protest? I honestly forget the way responses to this question wove through the subsequent conversation, but I suspect (perhaps because it’s my own view of social media) that on the one hand such media are seen as very important sources of important information and conversation about justice, but on the other hand they can be and often are precisely what the questioner feared.

• In my memory, the preceding topic linked directly with another thread that wove through the discussion: how do we (young and older) learn to become and stay involved with action for justice? How do we get educated for long-term action for justice? One of the panelists who has been a life-long activist spoke of “learning from the streets” – from engagement in street level protest at best from one’s youth. The short-student assembled slide show of images at the beginning of the zoom also featured images of street marching and protesting and I suspect that most of the students on the panel and in the audience had been involved in “service learning” (aka “street learning”) in connection with one or several of their classes.

• For me this emphasis on “street learning” was both important and I don’t hesitate to say dangerously one-sided. I did not find a way to express this concern so let me explain it here. I would say that the primary vocation of all those at a university is to be students in search of both knowledge and wisdom. Learning by involvement in the wider community, especially to respond to those most in need, is a very important aspect of being a student (one who desires truth and wisdom), but so are all the other more “scholarly” aspects of one’s life. And this is as much true for students as for their teachers. One learns from literature and religion, from sociology to history and politics, and from the physical sciences and professional disciplines – one learns from all these sources of knowledge and wisdom how better, more humanly and fairly, with more patience and more passion, to work for justice. One learns that there are many forms of such work – from protests and organizing to writing and studying. That is a small note of suggestion and criticism which I’d make to such university people and to all of us.

• And finally, I’d also note there was not much laughter in the zoom session. I tried several times to make a joke to lighten the conversation and it always fell flat. It was a very serious discussion. At one point someone mentioned music as a form of protest, and I’d add that music is a form of joy to lighten and leaven our protests. Yes, I remember the songs of the 60s which accompanied anti-war and civil rights marches. I was not at Woodstock, but remember it’s importance as a celebration of causes and protest (even though over time the memory of Woodstock has been reduced to little more than a celebration of sensuality). I digress. The point here is that the action for justice must involve humor, directed especially at ourselves, and celebration and ritual of many sorts.

Such, then, my brief report on a “Make Good Trouble zoom at my beloved Regis University.

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