UofA Social Justice Symposium

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The 12th annual, award-winning Social Justice Symposium is a day-long event to engage faculty, students, community members, and health professionals in dialogue to raise awareness of how social issues affect health and inspire action towards addressing these issues. The Symposium has been run entirely by students at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health since its inception. The focus of this year’s symposium is “Power and Privilege: Tackling Microaggressions in Public Health.” The mission of the Social Justice Symposium is to cultivate interdisciplinary awareness and encourage action in the pursuit of equal justice for all people in every aspect of our society. By addressing power and privilege through a discussion of the harms of microaggressions the Social Justice Symposium this year will open up a discussion of ways to embrace diverse opinions, perspectives, and backgrounds.

Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases these hidden messages may invalidate the group identities or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.

While microaggressions are generally discussed from the perspective of race and racism, any marginalized group in our society may become targets: people of color, women, LGBTs, those with disabilities, religious minorities, and so on. The most detrimental forms of microaggressions are usually delivered by well- intentioned individuals who are unaware that they have engaged in harmful conduct toward a socially devalued group. These everyday occurrences may, on the surface, appear quite harmless, trivial or described as “small slights,” but research indicate they have a powerful impact upon the psychological well- being of marginalized groups, and affect their standard of living by creating inequities in education, employment and health care.

We need to be aware of the underserved communities that are being disconnected from the resources that others may have the privilege of experiencing. It’s difficult to step into someone else’s shoes and be open to their struggles and insecurities, but empathy is the true source to understanding and combating microaggressions. It will allow for a deeper connection to the people that are in different situations and circumstances than you. The human race is precious and interconnects us all.

  • Kristi Sprowl
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