Fielding Graduate University Students, Faculty and Alumni Seeing Social Justice In Action
by Marianne McCarthy
During Fielding Graduate University's All School National Session, in Alexandria, VA, students, alumni, and faculty stepped into the community to see the struggle for social justice first hand.
In a true scholar-practitioner manner, Human & Organizational Development (HOD) faculty members David Willis, PhD, and Richard Appelbaum, PhD, led a group of fifteen students and alumni on a field trip seminar through our nation’s capital to learn about historical and contemporary perspectives from the activists themselves. They visited activists working to secure safety in the workplace, preserve the cultural heritage of community music, and advance our standard of living.
Recent HOD graduate Karen Bogart ('13), PhD who participated in the seminar once before, said she appreciates the opportunity of hearing from individuals who are dealing with social justice from a political, advocacy or lobbying vantage point. “Having Summer Session in Washington provides a unique opportunity to draw on the diverse resources in DC that focus on social justice issues around the globe.”
“I’ve always been a believer in experiential education,” said Willis. “It’s important for me to take people out of the hotels and into the community.”
The first stop in the tour was the offices of the Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC) where they spoke with Director Scott Nova who has been in the news recently advocating for workers’ safety in places like Bangladesh.
An international advocacy group, the WRC is “an under-resourced, hard-working organization that is making progress relative to regulations and agreements among major brands in terms of the treatment of workers in textile factories,” said Bogart, whose own personal interest lie in corporate governance.
According to Bogart, the WRC has had some success in the European Union. Ground-breaking agreements recently signed by major brands indicate progress toward oversight of safety and a greater investment in local communities.
Next, the group visited Dr. Atesh Sonneborn of the Smithsonian Folkways collection at the National Portrait Gallery which has archived a collection of American musical and cultural heritage that documents the social justice struggle. Willis characterized the Folkways collection as a sort of ministry of culture.
“What they’re doing is culture as ways of knowing and doing,” said Willis emphasizing the need to preserve individual voices which represent the struggle for justice.
“It’s really capturing the local voices and their experiences,” added Bogart.
The group also met separately with Judith Appelbaum, a Georgetown law professor and director of programs for the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Appelbaum talked about the Snowden case, the voting rights decision of the Supreme Court, and other current judicial issues. Sanders added a unique perspective to the day with his efforts to effect change from within our system of laws and government.
“His politics are very clear,” said Willis. “You can almost guess with 100% accuracy where he’s going to be on an issue, but he respects his colleagues and their differences. I appreciated that because differences and diverse opinions are what this country has been built on, and so there’s a lot of value in that.”
“All our visits had unique qualities and revealed different aspects of the struggle for social justice,” said HOD student Paul Stillman. “Despite frustratingly slow progress, setbacks, and ongoing obstacles, many people are engaged and remain optimistic that change is possible.”
“I would really encourage other students and alums to participate,” said Bogart. “I do think that is one of the benefits of having the Summer Session in Washington, which is so unique and so global in its resource base that it really distinguishes itself from other locations.”