The University of Dallas has begun an initiative to increase outreach and promote awareness of social justice issues on campus and in the surrounding community.
April Jecha, the residence coordinator for leadership, said that the initiative began in response to a desire for increased awareness and action among students.
“[Senior Vice President] Dr. John Plotts went to a Catholic college conference and noticed a well-established culture of a heart of service [at other schools],” Jecha said. “We didn’t want social justice to be so much a checklist … We can talk about issues [here.]”
Plotts then looked at the UD mission statement and began brainstorming ways to combine the university’s intellectual atmosphere with the students’ existing interest in social justice.
“Here at UD, we spent half our time on contemplating ‘what is justice?’ and now we can spend the other half of our time implementing it,” said senior Carmen Tate.
A social justice committee composed of faculty, staff and students formed to introduce programming and outreach ideas on campus.
Jecha hired Tate as a student intern for the initiative when the application opened last spring.
In her interview for the position, Tate focused on how the university could expand social justice awareness.
“I thought about what we don’t have [here],” Tate said. “We want to interact with the less fortunate and not just send them money or say we care about them.”
To that end, Tate said, one of the main programs the initiative hopes to begin is a prison ministry group. Students could become pen pals with the incarcerated, a group often considered to be outcasts of society.
Tate also hopes to give students more opportunities to meet face-to-face with the homeless population in Dallas.
“We want to overcome stigmas against issues that we like to stay away from,” Tate said.
The initiative will be sponsoring a number of events this coming week.
On Oct. 4, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., students are invited to a Blessings Bags packing event in upstairs Haggar to pack bags with essentials for homeless veterans in Dallas.
Next Wednesday, Oct. 7, the initiative will host a screening of the movie “Dead Man Walking,” about a man on death row.
A faculty panel on capital punishment, which will include professors from the theology and politics departments and the School of Ministry, will follow the film.
Previous events include Social Justice Saturday, which took place last month. Nearly 30 students went to a day care and donation-sorting center in downtown Dallas.
Another 30 made cookies and notes, which were later distributed to the homeless, on campus in the afternoon.
Tate emphasized that the initiative is open to suggestions and requests.
“We’re a work in progress,” Tate said. “We hope for a fully developed program as the semester goes on.”
Students can make requests and indicate which social justice issues concern them the most by filling out a survey on OrgSync.
Some requests the initiative has already received include a panel before the 2016 elections discussing the social justice platforms of each candidate.
Above all, Tate stressed the relationship between faith and social justice that the initiative hopes to promote in its work.
“It’s not about just doing things,” she said. “It’s about having a right relationship with God. There are two extremes in faith: developing yourself and serving others. They can sometimes be separated … [This initiative] is a way to put these together.”
Jecha said she hopes students will take on the important tasks of social justice with enthusiasm and excitement. “ ‘Social justice’ is a scary, politically charged word,” Jecha said. “We want students to know we can all have an opinion and not be afraid to ask questions. We want to be inclusive of the entire community.”