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New CEHS fund launches social justice student organization
In today’s tense political climate, teaching students of all ages the significance of social justice and civil discourse is paramount. CEHS social studies education professors Natasha Murray-Everett and Tiffany Mitchell Patterson have a passion for integrating these practices in their classrooms to prepare pre-service educators to grapple with difficult topics in their future classrooms.
For both Murray-Everett and Mitchell Patterson, placing an emphasis on social justice issues and creating a safe space to discuss them is a means for forging the path to a more equitable society.
“Social justice is all about equity and valuing people in terms of their race, their gender, their religion, their class,” Murray-Everett said. “Social studies is absent unless you take those things into account. We just want to think about social studies with a social justice lens and umbrella because it also accounts for marginalized perspectives and marginalized people.”
“In our classrooms, both of us talk about how people have intersecting and multiple identities, and how we engage that as part of a cultural responsibility, as well as in pedagogy and practice,” Mitchell Patterson added.
When a donor with an interest in social justice issues approached Murray-Everett about creating a fund that supports social justice and social studies education, Murray-Everett and Mitchell Patterson conferred about the best use for such a fund. The result of these conversations was the creation of the Montgomery Family Social Justice Allies Fund, which Murray-Everett and Mitchell Patterson have used to start a student-led social justice organization at CEHS.
“The donor came to me and told me that she wanted to provide this money to the College and wanted our students to learn about the history of slavery and racism and do some equity work,” Murray-Everett said. “We just felt this was a good fit, and this organization can fulfill some of the hopes the donor had for the endowment.”
The overarching purpose of the Montgomery Family Social Justice Allies Fund is to support research and curriculum that is focused on helping people understand the historical roots, unconscious biases and slavery-apologist myths that challenge the well-being of Americans of African descent. The fund can be used for travel expenses, research projects, teacher outreach efforts, teacher in-service presentations and general program support.
The social justice club held its first meetings for interested students in the spring 2019 semester, and moving forward, the organization’s members have big goals. Murray-Everett and Mitchell Patterson will serve as the organization’s co-advisors to help the members achieve those goals.
“Our students are on fire to serve,” Mitchell Patterson said. “They have been wanting to engage in real equity work. This gives students a way to engage in social justice action and not just learn about it. They’re building upon the coursework they’ve had with us and in other classrooms, because we do have a program and a University that supports social justice. The students will be pushing that agenda forward.”
For the coming academic year, the members hope to put on events, provide programming for the local community, and host teach-ins and professional development activities in schools. Ideally, these activities will equip current and future teachers with the ideas and materials they need to successfully implement social justice into their social studies curriculum. This wide range of initiatives would not be possible without the support of the Montgomery Family Social Justice Allies Fund.
“This money will move forward and facilitate the work that our students do in the community. The support will be far-reaching, not just now, but in the years to come,” Mitchell Patterson said.