About the Social Justice Initiative
The Social Justice Initiative, under the auspices of UTEP’s Department of Communication, is committed to social justice actions through local, regional, national, and global programs, publications, and products.
Background: How does a conversation become an initiative?
In December, 2008, after a prayer vigil for the victims of the Mumbai terrorist attacks on UTEP grounds, one student talked to another about the powerful difference people make when they unite for a good cause. Another student joined the conversation, echoing the sentiment. Before long, this chain of positive thought and desire for enacting it roped in Arvind Singhal of the Department of Communication who fanned the students’ desire to ACT. At the prayer vigil, Arvind narrated one of his favorite stories about Mother Teresa. Upon arrival in Washington D.C. in the early 1970s, she was approached at the airport by a large crowd getting ready to march in the capital against the Vietnam war.
“No,” she said. “I am sorry.”
The crowd murmured and then there was silence. Then Mother Teresa added:
“If you should choose to march for peace, I will be the first to lead.”
This story and its message of positive action led a group of undergraduate and graduate students from several departments across UTEP to create a dynamic multi-pronged event around peace. This event became the flagship student event of the Social Justice Initiative: Gandhi, King, Mandela, and Me—Together for Peace. Students of all majors and nationalities joined together and co-created an art/performance/storytelling/video program. They made t-shirts, peace buttons, established a peace pole where community members could tie ribbons signifying their peaceful commitments, and raised more than 5,000 cans for food banks on both sides of the border. These students got local groups and businesses involved, and they made a difference if only in each other’s lives, if only for the duration of the project.
If only one conversation were enough. If only one event were enough.
Building on the momentum of teamwork, collective goodwill, and respectful cohesion. Arvind and Lucia Dura, one of the graduate students involved in the peace event,co-launched the Social Justice Speaker and Publication Series under the auspices of the Department of Communication with initial cooperation from the Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies at UTEP. The first panel of the Social Justice series featured Emira Montes Zuta, a radio producer and former health promotora and listener of Bienvenida Salud, Minga Peru’s popular on-air, intercultural radio-educative project. The publication series featured three pieces on Minga Peru’s work in the Amazon.
Students signing the Peace Wall
This was the start of something BIG.
Beginning in Spring 2009, the Social Justice Speaker Series, through several events and activities, expanded rapidly creating conversations across departments, student groups, and faculty members. Guest speakers and workshop facilitators from outside of UTEP included representatives of Minga Peru, a human rights organization in the Peruvian Amazon, University of Southern California’s Norman Lear Center; University of New Mexico’s Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions ; the Plexus Institute in New Jersey; World Vision in Latin America; and others.
Over the past year, the Social Justice Initiative has forged networks and partnerships and initiated projects with a variety of global and local organizations: Save the Children USA, Uganda, and Indonesia; Pan American Health Organization and FEMAP Foundation (in El Paso); University Technology of Chemnitz in Germany; Centrum Media & Gezondheid in Netherlands; Center for Media Studies in New Delhi, India; the Positive Deviance Initiative at Tufts University; the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Arkansas; El Paso Studios, and Cause Entertainment in Bollywood, India.
In 2010, SJI served as a founding member of a Global Consortium on Entertainment-Education and Social Change with global partners such as Oxfam-Novib (Netherlands); Soul City Institute of Health and Development Communication (South Africa); Puntos de Encuentro (Nicaragua); Breakthrough (USA and India); and The Communication Initiative. Today SJI’s actions, publications, and products (including monographs, case studies, film series, and themed T-shirts) continue to grow in both depth and scope.
Working together from the ground up
A recent addition to the SJI portfolio is the organizing and mentoring of Communication Changemaker Awards, an initiative of the Department of Communication, mentored by faculty members Dr. Sarah Ryan, Eli Garcia, and Arvind Singhal to promote active, immediate community change BY students.
Students continue to create change by voluntarily designing t-shirts, publications, planning and hosting SJI events, and maintaining this website.