On Thursday night, a panel of students sat down with Prof. Sarah Elisabeth Curi (LGLS, HSSP) to discuss the meaning of social justice both in and out of the classroom. The event, titled, “Exploring Social Justice in the Brandeis Classroom and Beyond: Courses, Internship, and Careers,” was part of Brandeis’s week-long ’DEIS Impact festival celebrating social justice.

Curi started by asking the event’s panel of speakers: “What does social justice mean to you?” MacRegga Severe BS ’16 MS ’17 noted that for him, social justice is “using strength and talents to make your community more fair.” Another speaker, Maddy Rosenberg ’16, declared that social justice was “creative problem solving and … being inclusive in the way that you frame a problem and solutions.”

Jordan Brandt ’16 added that her understanding of the term became more well-defined during her time at Brandeis. “The concept of really calling social justice and associating HSSP with social justice wasn’t something I thought about until I got here,” she said. “After associating more with the social justice, I can get something that kind of naturally ingrains in us as human being.”

The dialogue then transitioned with another question from Curi: “Where have you found social justice in the classroom?” For Brandt, social justice exists in both academics and scholarly passion. “If you are passionate about science, or even economics, you can use that to work … in the way towards social justice,” she argued.

Next, the speakers debated “bread versus tofu,” or whether parents should push students to find a lucrative, stable job rather than encourage them to pursue an uncertain career in social justice. Brendan Weintraub ’16 expressed his understanding of his mother’s expectation on him to gain a decent job, but he underscored that “it’s great to make your parents proud at anyway that you want, but at the end of the day, it is your life, and you should be doing what you are passionate about.”

Maichelly Baez ’16 agreed, noting that even though she has explained the concept of public health work to her parents “at least eighteen times,” her parents still have not grasped what it is, and she ended up realizing that “no matter how many times you try to explain everything you learn, … you can’t share everything … that you [have] known, seen or felt.”

She continued, “Parents want the best for you, but they are not seeing why you are going to the lesser [money] option.”

For Rosenberg, her parents’ aspirations for her have never been a concern in her planning her career path. She noted that “to me, social justice means having your interests and tracing them,” adding, “you should look at yourself and [ask] if this is really meaningful to me?”

The students were then asked to describe what ways they have developed their understanding of social justice in their internship experiences. Brandt noted on class “it is very easy to overlook people who disagree with your concept of social justice … but when you are in an internship setting, I think your academic background can complement that. But it’s never going to substitute [for] it.” Weintraub also commented that social justice internships and volunteering programs can be an “eye-opening experience.” It is from working in social justice both on campus and off that Weintraub learned that “not everything is a straight line.”

Baez then discussed how she became involved in social justice through her internship, noting that she was shocked that there were individuals who needed but could not access a food pantry due to lack of transportation. “It’s one thing to learn in the class … but [in real life] you need to think about every aspect of the situation — everything from transportation to not being able to afford medication,” Baez said. “Never ever forget that you need to start before basic question, you need to address these basic concern … before addressing a bigger problem.

When Severe found out that his learning from class was not applicable in his internship, “everything I learned in the classroom went out the door,” Severe said of his internship in New York City, adding that real-life experience often trumps classroom learning. Severe suggested that, “Through the internship you try to learn those transformable skills … so when you are looking at your classes, try to remember that transformable value that you can find outside the room.”

The last question, “What kind of problems you want to solve,” inspired a wide range of responses from the speakers. Rosenberg stated that big issues to be solved — like global warming and the garbage crisis – are “not going to happen in our lifetime likely, but it doesn’t mean it was not worth striving for.” Weintraub noted that questions about the future of social justice movements are typical for Brandeis, adding, “It is hard to ask a student who does not come from a Brandeis mindset,” he said “but if you ask a huge university, I don’t think students will have the same answer.”