Social Justice Has No Singular Formula

A recap of the inaugural Sally Dickson Lecture on Diversity, Inclusion and Reflection.

It is easy to forget the myriad of possibilities encompassed within the label ”activism.” The first inaugural Sally Dickson Lecture on Diversity, Inclusion and Reflection, held on March 7, was a reminder of the social justice movement’s variety. Four panelists discussed their paths in pursuit of social justice in a dynamic dialogue moderated by Dean of Religious Life, Jane Shaw. Bree Newsome, a filmmaker renowned for ripping down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State Capitol, combines art and activism in her pursuit of equality. Rick Lowe uses his own artistic passion to fight poverty in African-American communities. Raymond Braun, a recent Stanford graduate, rose to fame as a result of his YouTube marketing campaign #proudtolove supporting LGBTQ equality. Aimee Allison, another Stanford alum, entered activism as a conscientious objector countering military recruitment and is now the senior vice-president of PowerPac+, which engages multiracial voters in support of social justice champions.

Instituted in honor of Sally Dickson, former Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs and a long-time pillar of Stanford’s social justice activist community, the lecture illustrated all three emphases of Diversity, Inclusion and Reflection within the two hours of directed conversation followed by questions from the audience. The discussion started out with introductions and a tribute to Sally Dickson’s legacy, and continued with questions from Dean Shaw and the audience.

After speaking of their personal stories and varying degrees of identification with the term “activist,” the panelists brought the conversation back to their own strengths and passions for each question. Aimee spoke at length on the importance of sponsorship – two-way beneficial relationships that will impact and carry forward your cause – while Rick pointed out that in addition to networking, having mentors to keep you centered is the key to personal involvement and leadership. Raymond attested to the experience of integrating activism with a career path, and Bree spoke of the balance between self-care and dedication: “How do you find that balance between supporting yourself and doing what it is you’re passionate about? And I think that’s the key to living a fulfilling life.”  

Throughout, it was evident that passionate and driven people have very different views on the best strategies to advance their causes. Raymond advocated infusing activism into a career, as he did after he started working for Google and saw the huge role that YouTube played in the lives of LGBTQ youth. The panelists all agreed that radical activism is not the path for everyone. Bree “climbed a pole and risked my life for the cause of liberation; it’s not the choice for everyone but it’s the choice for some people.” She also spoke warmly of the importance of community to her movement, and how much it means to have a support group of people in various walks of life. Raymond cited the importance of listening to other people’s stories to gain perspective. Rick spoke of the importance of grassroots activists who know what’s happening on the ground, but encouraged Stanford students to take advantage of the available resources and networking opportunities in order to have influence that transcends social boundaries. Aimee was far more emphatic than her fellow panelists on the importance of cultivating individual strength – she meditates every morning – while the others attached more importance to including others on their paths.

On the practical side, Aimee brought the conversation back to Stanford with references to her own student activism. She affirmed the effectiveness of the alumni network in assisting student efforts, saying “Thinking about the network is an important way to think about who you have behind you for change.” Raymond also connected his activism to his Stanford experience, referencing Cory Booker’s 2012 commencement address as part of his inspiration. Bree discussed the privilege of Stanford’s space, warning students that they might view their paths to activism differently outside of Stanford.

Reflection was far less explicit in the lecture, though Aimee spoke of her need for self-reflection through meditating and Bree attested to her Christian faith as a powerful force and motivation in her life. However, the lecture served as an excellent provocation to further reflection. The stories and testimonies were meant to encourage and inspire further action rather than let the conversation stop there. The diversity of the panelists themselves provoked thoughtfulness in how we prioritize worthy causes and integrate different communities into our lives. Moreover, the panelists’ mutual respect for differing activism strategies was a strong reminder to activists and non-activists alike not to hastily generalize the social justice movement. In Sally Dickson’s own words: “Whatever path you take, it’s the right one, so long as you are doing it out of a sense of responsibility.”

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