Campaign creates awareness to celebrate social justice at Rutgers
Yamiesha Bell hated the color of her skin when she was younger, but after watching the movie “Roots” with her father, she became proud of her African-American identity.
Bell, School of Arts and Sciences junior, was a panelist at night’s I.D.E.A. Week panel at the Douglass Campus Center.
I.D.E.A. Week, or Intersectionality, Diversity and Equity Awareness Week, is an awareness campaign that seeks to celebrate social justice activism at Rutgers and encourage Rutgers students to learn about modern social issues.
Hosted by Douglass Residential College, the panel included Rutgers student activists and one faculty member who are all involved in social activism in honor of the week, which runs until March 9.
Bell, president of the MountainView Project Student Organization, said she has always been interested in issues of race, which inspired her involvement with MountainView during her first year at Rutgers.
The MountainView Project works to help inmates obtain their high school diplomas or GEDs, she said.
After attending a predominantly white high school, she had a high school counselor who helped with her applications. This helped her see her place of privilege within the education system.
Bell believes a part of the MountainView Project is giving inmates a voice. She said they do not get to vote unless they are off parole or finished with probation in New Jersey, and she wants to bring awareness to a group that cannot advocate for themselves politically.
“It’s really important that people who do have a voice speak up, whether it’s through voting, whether it’s through activism, whether it’s through just retweeting something on Twitter, just to bring awareness to people who don’t get to do it themselves,” she said.
A challenge she has faced is thinking that she can walk into a prison and make everything better. Being realistic is important.
“I’m not superman. I might think I’m superwoman — it doesn’t work that way,” she said.
It is important that students not be hard on themselves if they cannot get through to everyone, she said.
Hima Sathian, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, helped coordinate I.D.E.A. Week, which is a program that tries to make social justice relevant to the general Rutgers population.
Social justice and feminism exist within certain pockets of students at Rutgers, such as the DRC, the Center for Social Justice Education and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, but with Rutgers’ long history in social justice activism, the week aims to make social justice digestible to the Rutgers public.
“Social justice is heavily theoretical. It contains a lot of large words that might alienate people, so we try to make it simplified but at the same time not reducing its complex meaning,” Sathian said.
Laura Stiltz, director of Research Programs and Advising for Undergraduate Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, was the only faculty member on the panel.
Her work involves providing women in STEM a solid foundation for future success in their careers, and she said one challenge she faces is her own biases.
As a white woman from the South, she comes with a set of biases that she has to check and continuously ensure that she can understand the struggles of others based on their set of biases.
Stiltz said women already start with certain biases against them, so while she offers women opportunities that may not be available to men, these opportunities are equitable instead of equal because women begin behind.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Yamiesha Bell went to Catholic high school, that her college counselor helped her with applications and failed to mention that inmates cannot advocate for themselves politically.