Students chewed on doughnuts—and each other’s thoughts—last week at “The World Café,” the first event from Barnard’s new Special Interest Housing community, the Social Justice House.
In its inaugural semester, the Social Justice House has replaced Barnard’s three special-interest suites, which changed themes each year depending on the students who applied to live in them.
The 21 students who live in the Social Justice House, on the fifth floor of 616 W. 116th Street, represent a wide variety of backgrounds, which was evident in the range of topics discussed at the group’s first event.
“We talked about education policy, we talked about what’s going on in Syria, we’re talking about environmental policy, immigration, and criminal injustice, just all across the board,” Imani Bishop, BC ’16, said.
Each student who applied to the Social Justice House specified an area of social justice that she hopes to pursue, but residents say they share the common goal of better understanding social justice and making an impact on the University community.
“As a first-year, I wanted to get involved into social justice work. However, I felt like every group was very exclusive,” Janet Ceron, BC ’16, said. “I didn’t want to just put myself into one area. Rather, I wanted to get a broad spectrum of what social justice meant to the Barnard community.”
The Social Justice House plans to organize two to three events per month, all of which will be open to the whole University community.
While the house is similar to Columbia’s Intercultural Resource Center—both are based on a special-interest residential component—IRC has a much broader mission, and includes offices that provide leadership, internship, and volunteer opportunities, community resource information, a multicultural library, and art exhibits.
Instead of trying to duplicate the success of the IRC, Barnard Residential Life & Housing decided to organize the Social Justice House so that students could create their own programs.
“I feel that people here don’t really know about this incredible activism that has taken place on this campus,” Emma Mercier, BC ’15 and a resident of the Social Justice House, said.
The residents have a long list of events planned. On Thursday night, they will hold a discussion called “Twerk for Justice,” which will focus on the appropriation of black culture through the lens of the Video Music Awards. The event will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Altschul Atrium.
They also hope to host a potluck and an exhibit that showcases the history of activism at Columbia University later this semester. Meanwhile, they’re looking to collaborate with more established student organizations on campus, including the Columbia University Society of Hip-Hop.
For now, the Social Justice House holds regular meetings for its residents in the Social Justice suite on the fifth floor of Barnard’s 616 residence hall. In the future, though, residents hope to create “hang-out hours,” when students can drop by and share their views on a wide range of topics.
“We just want to make people more aware of issues of social justice,” Nadine Hofgaertner, BC ’15, said. “People don’t want to think or talk about it [social justice] because it’s just such a huge problem. We just want to represent it in a way that is very conversational, so people feel comfortable speaking up about it and feel comfortable learning more about it.”