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Social Justice Institute: A Gateway to Understanding
09.19.13 |
Lebanon Valley College students will continue to have the opportunity to learn through the Social Justice Institute this year, where dozens of students participate in a three-day leadership program and conduct community service in Washington, D.C. The program has received a funding boost as one of the 13 recipients of the inaugural President’s Innovation Fund Grants.

Now in its eighth year, the Social Justice Institute has the power to transform students’ understanding of racism and sexism, the interconnectedness of identity and power/privilege, and the difference between prejudice, discrimination, and oppression.

“The institute’s primary purpose is to explore and understand how systems of oppression impact true equality in our society,” said Venus Ricks, director of multicultural affairs and institute leader. The highlight of the trip, for many students, is the time spent working alongside Washington, D.C., residents who spend time working for social justice.

“It’s an eye opener for students,” Ricks said. “Being able to see people in these situations and talking to them about these issues in the present is a real help for them. Instead of just sitting through sessions in a classroom, they get to go out and have some real world experience.”

Past Social Justice Institute participants have had the opportunity to serve lunches to the homeless, assist unemployed individuals with resume writing and job applications, and work at the Capital Area Food Bank.

“My favorite part of the Social Justice Institute was learning more about some of the students that are here on campus,” said Amisha Lala ’15. “We were able to understand the differences and diversities that we have here on this campus.”

“At SJI I learned about all of the different ‘isms’ that I never really understood – classism, agism, sexism, racism, lookism – it was more than I ever thought and kind of took for granted,” said Cameron Venable ’14. “It was cool to see the different privileges that I myself have and ones I never even realized I have. For example, I’m black, which means I’m not privileged as far as race, but I’m male, which means I’m privileged as far as sex. I want to keep other people informed about these differences and realize the privileges I do have and not exploit them.”

“SJI really opens people’s eyes to things that are hidden in our society,” said Heather Tran ’14, “such as hiding race or hiding your own feelings for things that you feel uncomfortable about. I think SJI really lets you speak out about these and actually express your own feelings and find within yourself what you have the potential to be and impact other people.”

Participants evolve from being appreciative of diversity to understanding systems that maintain oppression and privilege; develop strong leadership and critical thinking skills; and are eligible for membership in the Pallas Society, a campus-based social justice honor society.

Learn more about the Social Justice Institute at, or watch this YouTube video.

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