Local look at social justice

By Eleni Antipas
February 4, 2011

For Cabrini students, it is common to hear the words social justice on a daily basis. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and service immersion trips are just a few of the college’s efforts to expose students to global and national concerns.

Global problems like these may seem so large that people may feel overwhelmed by the idea of working toward change.

However, two individuals have chosen to tackle issues of poverty, disease and violence in our own community and in their professional lives.

Richard Gebauer, director of Living and Learning Communities, (LLC) is dedicated to social justice in his professional life. Since Gebauer has been director of the LLC, these educational resident groups have grown from being comprised of two themes to six themes. One of these groups is “Voices of Justice,,” which focuses on human rights and respecting others by connecting with neighboring communities.

“I can see students getting excited about making a change. Students begin to realize they can solve social justice in their own backyard,” Gebauer said.

Gebauer is also an instructor of Engagements with the Common Good (ECG), which allows him to work for social justice by educating others. As an instructor of the pilot course ECG 200, Gebauer introduced the idea of social justice to his students by explaining the work of Paul Farmer, anthropologist, physician and co-founder of Partners In Health (PIH), which provides medical care to individuals living in the poorest countries in the world.

After laying the foundation for the concept of social justice, Gebauer demonstrated how people can work for social justice at the local level. For example, guest speaker Sarah Cortes explained to the class her personal efforts to improve the Hispanic communities in Philadelphia.

Finally, Gebauer held mock town-hall meetings that required students to examine and argue both sides of social justice issues.

“The experience we give students in ECG 200 and ECG 300 allows them to learn by doing. Being able to visualize what their learning makes the learning experience much  more rich,” Gebauer said.

Gebauer practices what he teaches in his personal life. As a Philadelphia resident, he is deeply affected by the homeless people he passes on the city’s streets. He frequently calls shelters to alert them of men and women lying on the snow-covered sidewalks without something as simple as a coat or blanket to shield them from the cold.

Gebauer shared his sympathy for the homeless on Cabrini’s Founders Day in 2010 with his “This I Believe” speech titled “The Spicy Chicken Sandwich.”

“As I stood on the street corner waiting for the light to change, a man sat on the sidewalk to my left. Just as he was, a pair of crutches sat against a concrete wall. A blanket covered his legs and his right arm hugged a bag close to his body. His face exuded exhaustion and pain, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with compassion,” Gebauer stated in his speech.

In the future, Gebauer hopes to start a non-profit organization for the homeless. To join in Gebauer’s efforts follow this link for a list of local homeless shelters http://www.critpath.org/thac/homeless.html.

Another faculty member works in conjunction with her students for social justice. This past fall, Amy Persichetti, English professor, and the students in her ECG 300 course, “Dating & Domestic Violence,” researched and developed a survey. The findings showed that local elementary school teachers are interested in learning about how to identify and aid children who witness domestic violence.

Her students were also given the opportunity to visit the Laurel House, a domestic violence shelter for women and their children, in Norristown, Pa.

“I jumped at the chance to be involved with the Laurel House. As a mother, I really believe that all children deserve to be safe,” Persichetti said.

Persichetti’s  mother, Sally Lee, was an example of social justice. In fact, Lee was active in the fight against sexism.

“Your family is the foundation for the rest of your life. Strong families make for a stronger society,” Persichetti said.

Persichetti was inspired by her mother’s dedication to social justice and to decided to memorialize her work by opening the Sally Lee Child Care Center, at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).

The purpose of the center is to provide childcare to low-income and working families. To make a donation or volunteer visit http://www.ywcapottstown.org/.

“Social justice is not something you do, it is something you live. It is the kindness you show towards your neighbor or being active in your child’s school,” Persichetti said.

To make a donation to the Laurel House visit http://www.laurel-house.org/.

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Eleni Antipas

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