Brock faculty take an inter-disciplinary approach to social justice

Thursday night at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, faculty from Brock University, as well as graduates currently working in academia tackled issues around teaching social justice and breaking barriers between the school and the streets.  “Exploring Social Justice across Disciplinary Boundaries” was the second part of the three-part Art, Archives, and Affinities series to be held by Brock members. The research panel consisted of Keri Cronin — VISA Professor at Brock, Gale Coskan-Johnson — Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse Studies Professor at Brock, Gyllian Raby — Dramatic Arts Professor at Brock, and Ebru Ustundag — Geography Professor at Brock. Margot Francis, Sociology/Women’s and Gender Studies Professor at Brock was part of the panel, but unable to intend. The panel spoke out about what social justice means in each of their areas of study and research.

Gyllian Raby focused on theatre and the dramatic arts faculty as incredibly interdisciplinary with history, sociology, and more. She mentioned that theater is “intrinsically a vehicle” for understanding issues around social relations, power relations, and status. She explained how her research is based around and directed towards social justice, and how she strives to teach the history that isn’t about of St. Catharine’s book, such as First Nation history.

Gale Coskan-Johnson introduced rhetoric studies as something she is incredibly passionate about. Despite Brock being an area on controversy in terms of the land it was built on, Coskan-Johnson explained explained the purpose of the discipline (and social justice in general) is “to do no harm,” but also to “be aware that we are linked to institutions that have done great harm.”

“I see rhetoric as being able to read these texts,” explained Coskan-Johnson, “and be able to disrupt them.”

Coskan-Johnson also explained how the world has “normalized things that shouldn’t be normalized… [but] should be resisted.” In the explanation of this normalization, Coskan-Johnson also unpacked “moments of outrage,” embracing different opinions, and battling social justice in many different forms… writing and rhetoric being one of many.

Keri Cronin from Visual Arts, spoke out about kindness, not just to humans, but also to animals. Her work often revolves around the role of art in animal advocacy and social justice. She explained what she intended for these Art, Archives and Affinities meetings to be when she formed the structure last year.

“What I wanted to accomplish was to hear what social justice meant to [different disciplines]…” Cronin explained, “what it looks like on the ground.” Cronin explained that in her art history class, upon being shown an image of slavery in Canada, that many students were not aware Canada even held such history. She aims to “give students tools” and show them how “images are shaping your world.” Images to her, are crucial to understand context and important issues around social justice.

“It’s a material connection to the past,” Cronin said, “It’s the closest I can get to time traveling.”

Ebru Ustundag, researching and studying mainly Geography, had many things to say about Turkey, the idea of a “scholarly activist”, and all the baggage that comes along with the term. She explained how she encourages the creation of “spaces of care” in her research/teaching and that “belonging and connecting have been essential” to understanding her research. She proposed many questions.

“What are the conditions that make social justice possible?… Who has the rights to have rights?… Social justice research is important, but it is quite messy.”

In the graduate panel, Heryka Miranda performed a Guatemalan inspired work of art in motion, and explained the hardships of oppression through dance. Shannon Kitchings provided an equal amount of emotion in the medium of spoken word. Finishing off the night, social justice journalist Callie Long provided a video installation on indigenous land and rights that shook the audience to passionate tears.

The overall theme of the night was a discussion on balancing social justice education and social justice action, as well as promoting safe spaces both within and outside of the classroom. Discussions also consisted of how to combat resistance, disagreements and the skill of listening. The night proved to encourage self-reflexivity for both the panel members and the audience, as everyone was forced to look at themselves, their actions, their current role in battling social justice issues, and — as Long asked — why people are not “taking to the streets in outrage” over current issues. The answer the panel quickly came to was: education, understanding, learning, and caring.

“Can I work in archive and social justice?” Cronin asked herself. “Yes, yes I can.”

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