Monday marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day off from classes but also a time to reflect on community service and social justice. The University Community Service Center (UCSC) will be hosting a Weekend of Service, an opportunity for students and community members to jointly give back to our community.
On our campus, though, it is worth considering how we can not only think about social justice during a few days a quarter, but as an intrinsic part of our education and the culture on campus.
What does it mean to be social justice-oriented or politically active as college students? For many students, the question remains if college is the time to start changing the world, or to figure out how you want to change the world. There are some students on campus who wholeheartedly pursue changes that they believe will benefit our communities, immediately acting towards the change they wish to see in the world. There are also those students who are not yet so sure of their worldview, or to what issues or movements they should dedicate their time. Both are understandable places for a college student to be in their intellectual development, and neither group needs to judge or antagonize the other.
These two groups don’t need to be completely separate, either. Even if you are not sure of what cause to fight for, or how you want to confront injustice, there are still many opportunities to engage and give back to our community. The University has many avenues for encouraging community engagement, ranging from the UCSC’s extensive programming to countless tutoring programs, and many other opportunities. Many students also engage with social justice in other forms outside of University programming, such as activism and protests and community-orientated research. No matter the major or career path, there are many ways to engage with social justice, some of which only take 15 minutes in a week.
It can be all too easy to look at systemic issues facing the South Side—ranging from an overly punitive criminal justice system to a seriously flawed public education system—and feel that nothing can be done as a college student, or that action is meaningless if it does not challenge the core of these issues. That, however, is an overly pessimistic view that ignores what we as individuals can do for other individuals. Whether it be giving a homeless person a sandwich and acknowledging them as another individual, or explaining a math concept to a student whose school has failed them, there are many small things we can that will make a small difference for another person. We are not naive enough to believe these actions will change the world, but they nonetheless contribute to a better world.
Exploring social justice as a college student is about even more than the aid we are able to give others; it is about how we choose to spend our time, what kind of education we provide for ourselves, and the kind of people we want to become. It is about being conscious of how we’re using our time, and to what end. At this school many of us are masters of calculating the opportunity costs of each hour—figuring out how we can most efficiently fit together a puzzle of studying, sleep, social time, and extracurriculars. But we should also consider if the way we are using our time is best equipping us to help others now or in the future. We should work on having empathy for others and a better understanding of situations unlike ours as some of the many skills we strive to develop on this campus.
— The Maroon Editorial Board