For nearly six hours Saturday, the Paul Robeson Cultural Center’s Social Justice Symposium asked participants to recognize examples of oppression within their daily lives through a series of discussions, activities and remarks by keynote speaker Rosa Clemente.
Titled the “ISM: The Interconnectedness of Oppression,” the symposium was held in Paul Robeson Center Cultural Center’s Heritage Hall.
The symposium was meant to generate awareness of all “isms” —ranging from racism to sexism to ageism — event facilitator and PRCC graduate assistant Vinika Porwal said.
Participants discussed “isms” throughout the day in breakout sessions where attendees were randomly assigned to a group.
Each group covered one of six topics — western standards of beauty, personal and social perceptions of identity, sexual stereotypes, college student poverty, living wage and reproductive rights.
“The way to bring about change is to make it apparent,” NAACP president Celiena Bady said reflecting on the break out session.
But Karen Kihurani, Penn State Berks coordinator of multicultural programs, said dialogue is important, but difficult to get started. Kihurani brought Penn State Berks students to attend the event.
Some also discussed how other races communicate with each other, specifically roommates at Penn State.
“The way to breach the gap is through diversity,” Bady (junior-international politics) said. “If you are always around the same people who are just like you, you cannot get away from that [mindset].”
During a session on western standards of beauty, led by NAACP second vice president Nia Spicer, participants discussed the role that light skin plays in what constitutes beauty.
Spicer (junior-biobehavioral health) said there are even some women on campus who bleach their skin to conform to a beauty standard.
A way to embrace a more diverse concept of beauty might be through education, Spicer said.
“Information of your history empowers you to go against social norms,” she said.
The event also included a social justice panel composed of Center for Women Students Assistant Director Audra Hixson, LGBTA Student Resource CenterDirector Allison Subasic, and Paul Robeson Cultural Center Director Carlos Wiley.
The trio talked about issues involving social justice at Penn State and discussed how racial and sexual identity stereotypes tie into sexual violence.
The symposium ended with a keynote speech by Rosa Clemente, former Green Party Vice Presidential candidate and a self proclaimed “hip-hop activist.”
Among other topics, Clemente discussed the significance of Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor and President Barack Obama’s positions, which she called “great moments, not movements.”
She also urged students to take action outside of online mediums.
“Get off Facebook,” she said. “The revolution is not going to happen on Twitter.”
Wiley said he wishes all who took part in the symposium will take away the idea that social justice is more than one particular issue.
“Being a social change agent means you have to fight against all forms of oppression,” Wiley said. “Otherwise nothing will change.”