Arielle Fischer, features editor
It has been over a year since the equal rights movements of 2020 took the world by storm. For what arguably is one of the most notable movements in American history, an entire nation rose up against inequality and injustice, demanding change and rights for all people, no matter their race, religion, ethnicity or sexual identity. Although there is still significant work to be done in America; with freedom, justice and rights still hanging in the balance for many, 2020’s movements launched the country into a future where hope is no longer just on the horizon, but is in sight, almost within reach.
Berry’s Solidarity Week is an excellent time to reflect on not only the movements of last year but on the history of social justice and how far the world has come. Even more so, Solidarity Week ponders the concept of humanitarianism, and how everyone can pitch in to make sure their neighbors are treated with the same respect and compassion as they are.
Kristina Hilton, president of Berry’s Black Student Association (BSA) and Social Media Coordinator for U.N.I.T.Y gives her input into Solidarity Week, a recollection of the past year, along with various ways to get involved in the local community regarding social justice and rights.
“Solidarity Week is a great event that shows the different backgrounds of Berry,” Hilton said. “It gives everyone a chance to feel included, and feel like people actually care about them, despite being a minority. Additionally, Solidarity Week gives those who are not people of color to experience and understand other’s race, culture, ethnicity and what makes everyone different. It’s a ‘teaching moment’ too because we don’t have many classes that teach about a variety of backgrounds and ideologies around the world.”
Hilton remarks that, beyond Solidarity Week, keeping up with the news and staying in touch with the world is crucial for any progress to be made regarding social justice. Since last summer, the passion and enthusiasm for the fight against injustice have died down, but Hilton insists that the fight must continue. It is important that everyone is there for one another and stays aware of what is going on in different communities around the world.
“Humanitarianism is about constantly giving back to people and the community regardless of what their identity, race or religion is,” Hilton said. “We should always be lending a hand and ear to others no matter who they are. Don’t let personal biases get in the way of being kind and humanitarian.”
Reflecting on the past few years, Hilton claims that major developments, such as the Black Lives Matter and Native American rights movements, as well as smaller, local events like Solidarity Week, have brought more awareness of racism and discrimination to the public. People are still being oppressed today, and last summer was a wake-up call for millions. But it was this alarm that brought about a desire for change and equal rights.
Hilton argues that a plethora of social justice problems stem from the education system with the lack of cultural awareness and minimal educational diversity that children are taught. From this, kids grow up without much knowledge of cultures outside their own, leading to the divisions in social equality America faces today.
“Most people don’t really know much about different cultures and ideologies from school,” Hilton said. “Although it’s difficult sometimes, we should not get mad because no one is educating them to be more understanding. One way to fix this is to add more classes or lectures including cultural diversity, or maybe even CE credits about how to be allies with people of color. We need more room for talking in different areas and making places a safe space for all people.”
Hilton illustrates that getting involved in Solidarity Week is incredibly important in the expanding knowledge on other cultures. Likewise, following organizations, like Student Government Association and Black Student Association, on social media will help people stay aware of current events and information. Hilton also emphasizes that anyone and everyone can join or attend meetings of SGA and BSA; nevertheless, spreading awareness through any outlet possible is a great way to get involved and make an impact in one’s community.
In addition to Hilton, Leslie Gutierrez, a Solidarity Week committee leader and admissions ambassador shared her thoughts on the events of Solidarity Week and how to get involved, along with a reflection on social justice and the equal rights developments of modern-day history.
“Out of the 30 weeks a year we have on campus,” Gutierrez said, “Solidarity Week is a very special week where we dedicate our time to stand in solidarity and fight for social justice together. There are lots of social issues going on every day, and it is so important that we touch on these issues whenever we can. A lot of people are too afraid to talk about issues because it makes them uncomfortable or it’s too political, but that’s what makes it even more crucial to discuss. It’s important to educate people on solidarity because even though you might not be going through something yourself, it doesn’t mean other individuals aren’t.”
Gutierrez said that Berry is a very small community, and often, people feel as though they know everybody and everybody knows them. However, it is impossible to know the difficulties and social issues that they face every day that go so easily overlooked. Communication and listening to other’s problems are useful ways to truly understand others.
“Sometimes putting a story to a face is a good way to truly understand someone going through oppression and what they’re going through,” Gutierrez said. “Lots of times we only see a fixed statistic of people facing injustice or hear about it on the news, but actually knowing someone who’s going through these obstacles can be way more impactful and touching.”
Regarding staying passionate and active in solidarity and right movements, Gutierrez argues that knowing and listening are the two biggest key factors in staying involved and engaged in what is happening in the social world. Often, people will get lost in the news and social media, following a hashtag or someone’s unresearched and underdeveloped opinion instead of the truth. It is imperative to educate one’s self individually to really become exposed to other cultures, social concerns and develop logical opinions on what you support.
“Most of these issues are not political concerns, they’re about human morals,” Gutierrez said. “We need to set our political feelings aside, which is difficult because of how polarized our country is. These are humans too, who are going through oppression. If we really do our part to be compassionate, listen, be kind and take other’s perspectives into account, I think it’ll make the world a better place.”
Gutierrez continued by adding that she has noticed that since the summer of 2020, more people want to be educated about other cultures as well as social justice. Social media made everything incredibly public and now there is an entire generation on the side of equality, which never occurred to this extremity before. Gutierrez suggests that schools, including Berry, should add classes that focus on material regarding these common issues and racial concerns.
“Incorporating classes to teach diversity and cultures would teach people and kids to be more accepting of different people,” Gutierrez said. “They always say the United States is a ‘melting pot,’ there are so many people from different backgrounds and heritages, and young students already see that for themselves in classes when kids don’t look like them. It just makes sense to teach kids about diversity and acceptance of other people, because often they carry it over into adulthood.”
Gutierrez argues there are situations where schools are not the ones to blame for the lack of inclusion and cultural education, but sometimes parents and family members are guilty. Parents can stray away from conversations about race and identity because they believe children are too young, won’t understand or it isn’t appropriate to speak on, which is essentially prohibiting them from learning about something they already see firsthand.
Additionally, Gutierrez explains that actively getting involved in events, especially Solidarity Week, is a great way to break uncomfortable mentalities and habits. For freshmen, this may seem like a daunting week but volunteering is a phenomenal way to dive head-first into other cultures and learning about diversity. This is a safe space, so come with an open mind and, as Gutierrez insists, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, ever!”
In this era of change and uncertainty, it is critical that people care about one another, no matter who they are or what they identify as. The best way to do this is to educate oneself on diversity and cultures, as well as deeply listen to each other with an open mind and open heart. Too often, we let politics define our views on scenarios before we even understand what is occurring; even more so, we let politics define our views on certain people before we even know them or their stories personally. Social equality and acceptance have roots, not in left-wing or right-wing agendas, but human morals and character. Furthermore, it is up to everyone together to make changes, defying social injustice and oppression. It is up to everyone together to make those changes last for all time and for all people.