A place for people of faith and no-faith to explore shared values, build respect and mutually inspiring relationships, and pursue common action for the common good

Rosa Parks Internship

In Elmhurst College, Niebuhr Center, Social Justice on April 9, 2011 at 9:28 am

This is a piece written for the Elmhurst College student Newspaper, The Leader. It is about my experiences thus far this year as Rosa Parks Intern for Social Justice with the Niebuhr Center at Elmhurst College— a center at EC that “encourages social engagement among faith-motivated individuals from diverse religious backgrounds through a variety of programs and activities.”

Several years ago, the NAACP had a marketing campaign that included posters reading “Rosa Parks was nobody special…until she took a stand by keeping her seat.” Unpacking that, Rosa Parks knew of injustices happening around race, but she was a bystander, a normal, everyday person– until she decided not to be. Each year, the Niebuhr Center guides two students to work on our campus around Social Justice work- the students are supported as interns, one focusing on international issues (named the “Gandhi” intern) and one focusing on domestic issues (the “Rosa Parks” intern). In accepting the Rosa Parks Internship with the Niebuhr Center this past year, I had two goals: I wanted to learn more about violence in American Indian Communities and produce academic research around this topic so I can begin to take action around the issue, but I also wanted to make sure conversation and action around social justice issues continued to be in the fabric of our college culture. I wanted to help my peers understand that we are all “nobody special”…until we take a stand in something we believe in.

Yes, commitment to social justice and upholding of values is part of our college’s mission and values statements, as well as the strategic plan, but how are those values shown in the day-to-day of student life? I’ve noticed, in my 2.5 years at Elmhurst that there is a deep passion for truly making change in the world and defying the power structures that perpetuate injustice, but this passion only comes to the surface- to visible action in a small handful of students. I challenge you: what do you care about? What could you speak out about to make the world a more whole and just place?

Before taking action on an issue of justice, it is crucial to have a grasp as to the facts and realities of the matter. I first became interested in the crisis of violence against women in these communities when, in my first year at Elmhurst, I learned that “Native American and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the USA in general”, according to the 2007 Amnesty International Report “Maze of Injustice”. The same study showed that more than one in three (34.1%) of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped during their lifetime. I found these statistics shocking, especially when one considers underreporting of sexual crimes, but had never taken much time to go beyond these surface facts. In the past academic year, I have been driven by the Rosa Parks Internship for Social Justice through the Niebuhr Center to continue my inquiry into violence against women in Native communities; I have learned more about the facts of the issue, as well as exploring the larger effects of this violence- how it changes communities and breaks traditions. I feel I am coming to a point where I am able to speak out on this urgent issue and begin acting for change.

So, with Rosa Parks and the need for continuing education about social justice issues in mind, let’s have a conversation- join me on Thursday nights for documentaries and dialogue, and in the spring on the patio during protected hour on Tuesdays for conversations about world issues & our role in them. Challenge me, challenge yourself, and join me in mutual education so we can become the “somebodies special of our generation” by taking a stand on important issues of our time.

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