UD reacts to new social-justice initiative

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Sally Krutzig, News Editor

 

Random Acts of Crusader Kindness Week marked the beginning of the University of Dallas’ new social-justice initiative.

Starting on Monday, Feb. 10, students were encouraged to enact social justice by randomly doing nice things for others. Signs posted around school suggested that students hold doors open for one another or write thank-you notes to their friends. The university then took to the Internet to encourage students to tell how they “paid it forward” or how someone else did them a good deed. They could do this by sharing their stories on the UD Hub Facebook page or through Twitter using the hashtag #udpif, which is short for “UD pay it forward.”

Students did not seem to be especially enthusiastic about this first step, however. By the end of the week, no student had posted a story of kindness to UD Hub or used the Twitter hashtag.

“It reminds me of a Bible school. We’re mature adults here, and we’ve been shaped by the people here, the experiences we’ve had and the books that we’ve read, and we don’t need to be reminded of something so basic,” said senior Mary Mackenzie.

Some students even seemed to make fun of the campaign.

Last week, students found signs like this on doors across campus.  The signs were part of an initiative to encourage acts of kindness. -Photo by Peter Sampson
Last week, students found signs like this on doors across campus. The signs were part of an initiative to encourage acts of kindness.
-Photo by Peter Sampson

“People are kind of mocking it and will mockingly open a door and say, ‘Random act of kindness,’ while before, I know that same person would have done it without stating it as such, just out of a common understanding that it is a courteous thing to do,” said senior Vallery Bergez.

Not all students felt that way. Others thought last week’s efforts were a good idea.

“One of the things I think would be nice to see after this month is people making more of a conscious effort to do little things,” said junior Karen Bless.

Yet John Plotts, vice president for enrollment and student affairs and head of the social justice initiative is unworried by this shaky start. He sees Random Acts of Crusader Kindness Week as the “tip of the iceberg,” a way to “ease everyone into the idea of social justice” before getting into more serious topics. He hopes students will understand it as simply the prologue of a much larger effort that will be made at UD.

The idea for the social-justice initiative, now officially labeled, “I Am My Brothers’ and Sisters’ Keeper: Living Our Commitment to Social Justice,” began last summer when Plotts attended a conference for vice presidents of student affairs. Realizing that other schools seemed to for more services to society, he began to do more research on social justice.

He turned to Blessed Pope John Paul II’s “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” a papal document that, according to Plotts, “talked about what is the purpose of a university and how different people are supposed to interact in a Catholic university.”

According to the document, universities should foster, “Passionate faith life, the active pursuit of reason and intellectual development, fidelity to the Catholic Church, and an element of social justice.”

While Plotts felt that UD is particularly strong in most of those categories, he felt that UD could use some improvement in regard to social justice.

“I saw that I had the opportunity to influence that [last] category, social justice,” he said.

This month, the drive toward social justice will begin with the Random Acts of Crusader Kindness campaign and an anti-bullying panel next week.

“It’s funny, because having a panel about bullying, having a panel about anything, is so UD,” said Makenzie.

A Social Justice Committee (SJC) made up of students, professors and administrators will soon meet to outline the initiative more clearly. The members of the SJC are Bill Frank, Mike Brock, Will Chavey, Denise Phillips, Mark Goodwin, Dore Madere, John Norris and Valerie Landrum.

One of the committee’s goals is to define social justice, a task Plotts admitted could be difficult.

“I know that the term can be divisive or controversial because of the way different people have used it. But it is the word used in “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” said Plotts.

In order to better understand the phrase in a Catholic context, Plotts turned to the document, “Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions,” written by the U.S. Catholic Bishops. In it, social justice is divided into seven parts: Life and Dignity of the Human Person; Call to Family, Community and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; and Care for God’s Creation.

This semester, Plotts simply hopes to get students used to the term. However, students can expect to start seeing the effects of the University’s initiative this year and in years to come.

“It’s not going to be one of these things where we try it and then let it go by the wayside,“ said Plotts. “Because, to me, it’s so fundamental to what’s been set forth in ‘Ex Corde Ecclesiae.’”

 

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