By: Tabatha Donley
Queering Leadership. The Hero’s Journey: Reigniting a Passion to Serve and Lead. Changing the Conversation on Global Development through Powerful Messaging. With over 90 workshops and panels offered at the annual IMPACT Conference, it was a daily struggle to pick and choose among enticing topics. Most insightful for me was attending the “Forward through Ferguson: A Path Towards Racial Equity” panel, which featured three scholar-activists, two of whom served on the Ferguson Commission.
Weaving in the history and demographics of St. Louis, the panelists answered poignant questions regarding the aftermath of Michael Brown’s unjust death, examining the value of protests and “calling out.” Through the course of several hours, I was in absolute awe of the sheer intelligence, passion, and dedication these women (yes, they were allwomen) possessed. Chills ran through my body as these fierce women shared their experiences and expressed their opinions, unapologetically.
“Can’t you find another way to protest?”
The Q&A session revealed how much work is needed in our own social justice spaces. As with anything, good intentions do not necessarily equate to good results; in fact, even the best of intentions can have harmful consequences. A fellow conference participant (white, female) prefaced her question with her disdain for protests that interrupt traffic. She stated that one such protest in her hometown shut down the freeway which resulted in a large inconvenience: her commute to work was severely delayed, therefore she lost money. She pleaded that there must be a better way to protest — one that does not inconvenience others who would otherwise support causes like #blacklivesmatter. She reiterated that she was all for social justice. It was interesting to observe the crowd: some were nodding in agreement with the questioner, while others shook their heads. Panelist Amy Hunter (check out her amazing Ted Talk here) answered with perfection. She acknowledged that certain protests do indeed inconvenience others…yet, she encouraged the student – and the audience in general – to see the big picture: if a traffic blockade is what it takes to save another black child — to prevent another black mother from grieving over her dead child — surely, it is worth the “inconvenience.” Money can be replaced; lives cannot. The whole room fell silent and was taken away by Ms. Hunter’s candor in reminding folks what is really at stake here: human lives. Most commonly, black lives. The questioner was visibly shook, as she received a big reality check assessing her privilege and power.
To call OUT or IN?
Another highlight was the discussion of calling out. A common practice for social activists, calling out brings public attention to one’s oppressive behavior, and paves the way for increased education and accountability. Yet, as many conference participants expressed, calling out seems ineffective or harsh at times — deterring possible allies from joining the movement. Once again, Ms. Hunter came in clutch: she first reminded folks how imperative calling people out can be: not only is oppressive behavior identified and corrected, communal healing can take place if folks were directly harmed by the oppression. Yet, Ms. Hunter also gave the questioner’s claim some legitimacy, and advocated another approach: “calling in.” She talked about radical love, and how addressing someone’s oppressive behavior more personally and privately can reduce embarrassment – but most importantly, help the individual learn, grow, and be hip to cause.
Immediately afterwards, a co-panelist stressed that calling out is more effective, and that there is simply not enough energy to call people in all the time. Ultimately, the panelists agreed that both calling out and calling in hold merit, emphasizing that each situation is unique. Energy and compassion cannot be easily renewed – particularly if one experiences frequent micro and macro-aggressions. Marginalized people are not obligated to educate their oppressors; their self-care comes first. As Audre Lorde famously expressed, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” My time in St. Louis rejuvenated my passion for social justice, reaffirmed the importance of community, and inspired me to continue the good fight. I encourage everyone – especially underclassmen – to partake in IMPACT and stay woke. A million thanks to SAIL for affording this senior with the opportunity to continually learn and grow.
By: Sarah Kladler
This year I attended the 2017 National IMPACT Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. The conference centered around social action and service learning, bringing hundreds of motivated social justice warriors under one roof. The Conference lasted four days and consisted of keynote speakers, panels, and workshops led by nonprofit leaders, school administrators, and college students. When we weren’t in group sessions, we had time to explore the St. Louis area. We visited local restaurants and bars, walked past the largest city park in the country, and spent an evening at the City Museum, which believe me, was one of the coolest places I have ever been in my life. The City Museum is a huge indoor/outdoor playground for adults and children alike, with multiple story-long slides and spiral tunnels weaved through the ceiling—the place is a real-life version of Shoots and Ladders meets Chuckie Cheese’s, meets an eccentric sculpture installation. It’s insane!
During the Conference I also had the opportunity to present a workshop to me peers tilted, The Image as Social Commentary: the Power Behind Visual Persuasion. My workshop centered around images and introduced how images, driven by a society devoted to visual stimuli through constant exposure to marketing and the media, have the unique and extraordinary power to persuade and comment on the world around us. Participants learned that the formation of social stereotypes and biases are often formed through images we see in ads and driven by our implicit bias. I also introduced artists, such as Hank Willis Thomas and KC Adams, who use their art as a form of social action. Thomas seeks to inform the public of how we unconsciously absorb social bias through the images we see. KC Adams, on the other hand, works to replace our bias with positive, truthful images. Check out their work here:
I want to thank SAIL for providing me the opportunity to attend this conference. If you are reading this and you haven’t been to a conference, or are looking for other opportunities to expand your knowledge about social justice, come by the SAIL office to learn about upcoming our events and other opportunities!
By: Michael Galfetti
Thanks to SAIL’s generous full-funding, I was able to take my research to Washington University at St. Louis and listen to excellent scholar activists who were “ready to be free”. Throughout the conference, I witnesses the most optimism I have seen on a stage since the election of Donald Trump. The women who sat on the Ferguson panel, and yes, they were all women, had their hands on the long arm of the universe and were bending it towards justice—without holding back. They candidly stated that they were ‘likely to be run over laying down in front of an immigration bus’ but were pleased with the progress in the opening of American consciousness towards the gross inequities our society has (always) perpetuated. All that to say, I enjoyed the Ferguson panel. Those women gave one of the most important lectures of my college career; they were open, loving, hard-working, respectful, freedom fighters. It feels egotistical to comment on my own research in line with theirs so I will start a new paragraph.
My presentation was attended by about 30 people (students and administrators (mainly students)) and we dialogued about the role emotions have to play in replacing truth—focusing around the 2017 election. Together we were able to build a new model for understanding conversations about political truths. There are experiences universal to all people; the example we used was the feeling of being judged. Then there are individual experiences of being judged; this is a subjective and highly personal experience. Lastly, there is the objective, numerical, piece of being judged in society; do the “facts” show that black people are more likely to be arrested for the same crime as white people? (yes) In creating this model together the group was able to see how commentators—the media—are navigating conversations concerning issues of social justice. What arguments are salient in communities? What “truths” are individuals believing and why are they believing it? Are questions open to investigation under this model precisely because it recognizes the use of emotional charged rhetoric that may be relying on a shared history of people. It is a little like the old maxim: if you say anything enough it becomes true. Except it fills in more after the period “if you say anything enough it becomes true because it connects to personal myths and stories that are shared among communities”.
The opportunities of the 2017 IMPACT conference were thought-provoking and professional-advancing. Thank you to the office of Social Action and Integrative Learning for the opportunity and support.