The Slippery Rock Student Government Association (SGA) social justice committee celebrated its first birthday as a standing committee on Feb. 12.
The history of the committee, led by Kennedy Moore, vice president of diversity and inclusion, began outside of SGA and served as a response to student concerns.
The social justice committee was originally called the student success committee and formed to organize student complaints in response to a controversial administrative proposal. In spring 2016, administration proposed to move several student groups, including the Office for Multicultural Development, Women’s Center, Pride Center and Veteran’s Center, from The Suite to a remodeled University Union. The Honors College would have then been moved to The Suite.
According to Keshia Booker, assistant director of multicultural development and a mentor during the formation of the student success committee, the initial problem with the move is that underrepresented groups would have been moved out of the Smith Student Center. The student success committee was tasked with representing students and sharing their concerns with administration.
“It was just sort of organizing our complaints and the reasons why we did not think this was a good idea,” Booker said. “The social justice committee stems from a lot of the work that happened that semester in preventing the move from happening.”
Yonshalae Powell and Gaby Lyons, who were responsible for gathering student concerns at the undergraduate and graduate levels, contributed heavily to the student success committee’s establishment on SGA, according to Booker. The “Student Success Center” in University Union was never created.
Shortly after former SRU President Cheryl Norton hosted a town hall to discuss concerns over the proposed move, SGA adopted the student success committee as an ad-hoc committee.
“When it became an ad-hoc committee, it was giving SGA a formal role,” Booker said. “That was needed because they wanted to solidify the student voice. They wanted the student voice to have some legitimate weight to it, so they thought that making it an ad-hoc committee and saying that the Student Government Association cares about these issues as well as students of color and students from minoritized groups care about these issues was really what carried more weight when they took it to the president.”
The updated name of social justice committee was established at the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year, maintaining its ad-hoc status. Throughout the 2017-18, Victoria Davis served as the chair of the social justice committee and sat with the SGA executive board and senate during meetings.
According to Davis, the committee members discovered that they would need to achieve a standing committee status and have a representative on the executive board to maintain a sustainable voice through SGA.
“After the SJC had been an ad-hoc committee of SGA for a few months, I think the committee realized that for the work we were doing to be sustainable, not only did we need to shift from an ad-hoc committee to a standing committee, we needed a chair who had real power in and of themselves, which is why in the end we advocated for a cabinet-level vice president position,” Davis said.
This vision became a reality on Feb. 12, 2018, when SGA promoted the social justice to a standing committee and established the executive board position of vice president of diversity and inclusion.
Last spring, Moore first heard about the social justice committee through Black Action Society, advised by Booker. She joined the committee that semester and ultimately was elected vice president of diversity and inclusion as part of the OneSRU ticket.
This past academic year, Moore made connections with representatives from various offices on campus, including the Office for Inclusive Excellence, Office for Global Engagement, Office of Disability Services, Women’s Center and Pride Center. The committee also partnered with NextGen to attract more students to the polls during the midterm elections this past November.
“As a small committee, we have the power to reach out,” Moore said.
The committee hosted a community cafe on Feb. 6 to discuss what SRU would look like as a more diverse campus, an event which 30 students, SRU President William Behre, Dr. Pease-Hernandez and Corinne Gibson, director of the Office for Inclusive Excellence, attended.
“If the future VP can hold something like that each year but on a different topic just to get students constantly talking and getting feedback and sharing stories to better the diversity and inclusion of campus I think would be very valuable,” Moore said.
Moore also had the idea of organizing a tunnel of oppression, a project that will more than likely be a task for the upcoming vice president of diversity and inclusion, according to Moore.
Two days after the committee celebrated its first birthday as a standing committee, the SRU community received an email from Behre, who said that a Black History Month poster was vandalized in Rhoads Hall. In response, Behre hosted a town hall on Monday with Moore serving as the student moderator.
“Often times, we hear about these things and we see these things and we don’t catch the attention of the media like this story has,” Moore said. “I honestly do think that with [Behre] and the student support we have from SGA, from other clubs and organizations and just students in general, this won’t be tolerated. Hopefully, if it unfortunately does happen in the future, it doesn’t become as much of an issue.”
Davis said that, throughout her four years as a SRU student, she has seen student organizations—including Black Action Society, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, Student Organizations of Latinos/Hispanic and Allies and Student Union for Multicultural Affairs—address hate on campus through education and outreach.
“Part of the reason the committee was formed was because despite the resilience of these communities, hate still happens,” Davis said. “At this point, bigotry is institutionalized, which is part of the reason we fought so hard for anti-bigotry measures such as the committee to be institutionalized via student government.”
According to Booker, along with the change in name, the social justice committee shifted focuses between 2016 and today. For example, the ad-hoc committee and student success committee wanted a chief diversity officer on campus, a goal that Booker believes is still a desire of the committee but no longer a primary concern.
I think that becoming an actual committee and an actual part of SGA has been able to broaden the scope,” Booker said. “They’re not necessarily fighting for one issue anymore. They’re fighting for all types of injustices on campus.”