Social justice activist Feminista Jones discusses the spectrum of intersectionality and opening our minds to change. - Contributor / Jack Trabucco

On Monday, March 8, the Rowan University Office of Social Justice, Inclusion and Conflict Resolution (SJICR) hosted its fourth annual Feminist Activist Symposium, in celebration of International Women’s Day. The virtual event ran from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and hosted multiple speakers of diverse career, racial and cultural backgrounds – each contributing to the symposium’s core theme. 

This event, “You Can’t Pour from an Empty Cup: Sustaining Your Social Justice Activism,” centered around “how to find strength, determination, passion and drive to continue — or perhaps start — doing social justice activism,” according to Dr. JoAnna Murphy, the assistant director of women’s and inclusion programs.

Because this event took place online, it certainly posed challenges for the organizers, speakers and attendees; however, Murphy noted her hope for the continued success of such events in the future, despite their virtual limitations.

“Sometimes, when doing this work, we often think about the ways that virtual spaces allow other people to join from around the globe, while also holding that being virtual can mean certain limitations for folks,” Murphy said. “…I think each year that we host this symposium, it gets a little better, and, for me, growth and consideration is the ultimate goal when I think about success.” 

Throughout the event, each speaker outlined multiple methods of self-reflection and self-care, reinforcing the idea that one must first be of sound mind and body before attempting to help others find the same through activist work.  

Speakers of the event included Corrine Smith, social justice worker and graduate coordinator of SJICR, whose presentation regarding the “Superhero Schema” broke down the self-destructive side of the unemotional, always-in-control mindset forced upon Black women, in order to escape further-damaging stereotypes.

Graduate students in clinical psychology Dr. Emma McBride and Dr. Danika Charles offered insightful commentary regarding how racial trauma is inherited between generations. They went on to describe how minor social cues, responsible for microaggressions and hate crimes alike, are programmed into our brains, and are only avoidable through constant self-reflection and reevaluation in safe spaces – where such tensions can be openly discussed. 

Dr. Brandon West emboldened the audience with his powerful story about finding self-esteem through his presentation, “Your Identity Is Your Superpower: Embracing Diversity in the World of Higher Education.” He likened one’s identity to a superpower, giving them the ability to rise above that which would otherwise knock them down – such as bullying and poor self-image.  

Closing the event was the keynote speaker – renowned social justice activist and author Feminista Jones. Jones discussed, in passionate detail, how to determine where each of us lie on the vast spectrum of intersectionality.

She noted how – by finding, acknowledging and embracing our identities along that spectrum – we can know where and how to use the resources available to us to work towards achieving equity for those less fortunate – including minorities and the economically disadvantaged.  

Following the thunderous virtual applause that Jones received, it was clear that the spirit and will of social justice is alive and well on campus. Closing out the interview, Murphy discussed her hope for SJICR in the future.

“Like our keynote Feminista Jones said today, we must recognize where and how far we have come, and, simultaneously, reach behind us to uplift and support marginalized communities,” Murphy said. “…We are humans who face systemic oppression on a daily basis, and, upon the recognition that we are all bound together in our search for liberation, we can begin to move toward true freedom.” 

Despite being virtual, a palpable sense of comaradery and achievement permeated the event with each speaker and their subsequent Q&A – alive with healthy, insightful debate. 

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