Buffalo State College will dedicate a permanent social justice outdoor space on campus to honor the ideal that social justice is not a conversation but rather a commitment.
Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner, in consultation with Provost James Mayrose and Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney, the college’s chief diversity officer, announced plans earlier this month to build a monument that will serve as a lasting reminder of the college’s devotion to social justice.
This initiative is the college’s latest response to national conversations surrounding justice and equality, following the implementation of the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship Fund and signage displaying Buffalo State’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Overseeing the project is a working group of seven faculty and staff members from across campus who are involved in different aspects of social justice. They include Keunyoung Oh, associate professor and chair of fashion and textile technology and co-chair of the President’s Council on Equity and Campus Diversity.
“Social justice is more than just diversity, equity, and inclusion; social justice is changing the perspective on how one sees the world.”
Oh explained how her experience with the college’s initiatives for promoting growth and awareness through open dialogue shapes her perspective on social justice with the new space.
“Social justice is more than just diversity, equity, and inclusion; social justice is changing the perspective on how one sees the world,” Oh said. “So, when we say we will have a social justice space, it clearly says the whole campus is dedicated to making actual changes.”
The development of the space will be a transparent and inclusive process, meaning the college community will be involved in each phase of the project’s progression. The community can participate in the first and current phase, selecting a location for the space, in the form of a survey. The survey allows participants to choose one of four locations for the new space: Cleveland Circle, south of Cleveland Hall; Perry Quad, west of the Campbell Student Union; Rockwell Walk, a pathway from the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Rockwell Road northwest to the Campbell Student Union Plaza; or Upton Quad, south of Upton Hall and southeast of the Science and Mathematics Complex. Voting is open through Friday, November 20. The outdoor social justice space will be unveiled as part of the college’s 150th anniversary kickoff celebration in fall 2021.
Lisa Morrison-Fronckowiak, director of Student Accessibility Services and co-chair of the President’s Council on Equity and Campus Diversity, noted the importance of community input in driving the project forward, especially the student voice, which reflects the diverse nature of the campus.
“The purpose of the committee is to shepherd the process through, giving the campus community as much input as possible,” she said. “President Conway-Turner wanted to make sure we weren’t having preconceived definitions or ideas as far as what should be there or what social justice should look like, because we really want our campus community to make those decisions.”
As the project’s development continues, the campus community will have a say not only in where the space will go but also exactly what it will be. A monument, a statue, or a gathering space are all possibilities for the new addition to campus; specifics have not yet been determined.
In addition to implementing a physical marker of social justice, this project also adds to the conversation about what the concept is, as individuals can have broad views about social justice. Morrison-Fronckowiak’s professional endeavors have helped shape what the term means to her and how it brings to light lesser recognized areas.
“Within social justice is a concept of fairness and equity,” she said. “And personally, I always think access. Not only physical access or academic access, but economic access as well.”
She explained how the novel coronavirus pandemic has highlighted different forms of accessibility as issues of social justice, where access to necessities like technology and health care have proved to be challenging for many.
In addition to serving as a reminder of how broad the arc of social justice is, the dedicated space will also help create more dialogue about social injustice, Oh said.
“I think we have so many issues related to racial injustice, but people tend to avoid these issues because it makes them uncomfortable,” Oh said. “Having a space dedicated to social justice at Buffalo State can help faculty and students change their perspectives to reflect the values that we promote on this campus.”
Pictured top: Installation by artist Ben Perone, from the 2012 Anne Frank Social Justice Festival at Buffalo State College
Photos by Bruce Fox, campus photographer.