I have a confession: when I applied to the GCSW, I wasn’t really sure what social justice meant. I admit to asking my friends how they would define it and even googling it in order to wrap my head around it enough to write my application essay. It was such a broad and abstract term that I didn’t feel like I fully grasped its meaning.
Nearing the end of my first year in the program, I’m happy to report that I have a much better understanding of what social justice means and that I feel affirmed that I am in the right program because, among other reasons, I now realize that all those issues I’ve been passionate about for so long are in fact social justice issues. I still, however, find it a hard concept to sum up. If pressed, I would say it is “equality for all,” but that doesn’t really feel like it quite captures it. Fortunately, I have been introduced to the work of author and scholar John A. Powell this summer, and he defines social justice in a way that really resonates with me. He says, “It’s an expression of caring, just caring about people and saying that you are connected to people…and then giving it voice.” I like his definition because it seems to break the idea down into two concrete and equally important parts: empathy and action.
My experiences in my first year at the GCSW have also led to a heightened awareness of all the many areas in which one can work for social justice. I’m a full-time Montessori teacher, and I originally didn’t see a great deal of connection between what I do in the classroom and social work, much less social justice. However, my studies at the GCSW have reinvigorated my passion for education because I now see the classroom as one of the frontlines of the fight for social justice. I work for social justice through educating adolescents and also through equipping them to go out and continue the fight themselves. Additionally, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work at Bo’s Place this summer. Even with my new understanding of this concept, grief support groups were the last place that I expected to see opportunities for social justice. Luckily, GCSW alum and former Ambassador, Flor Guevara, introduced me to the work of Alesia K. Alexander Layne. In her book Tapestries, Alexander Layne reminded me that there are differences in which communities’ losses are acknowledged and also in which kinds of losses are honored, and through giving voice to these injustices, we can move toward greater equality.
There are definite and obvious areas where social justice is painfully needed, and this is never clearer than in current times. I would offer, however, that the need for empathy and action is everywhere, and maybe even where you least expect it. I’m so glad that the GCSW has helped to give me the opportunities I needed in order to be able to see this.
(P.S. I can’t encourage you enough to follow the link above and get acquainted with the work of John A. Powell. He has some amazingly insightful ideas about what is needed for greater racial social justice, and I think all people, but especially budding social workers, would benefit from considering them.)