Scholar praises social justice curriculum

By Brian Loschiavo
December 4, 2008

A formally homeless man, now a scholar at a famous university seminary, told Cabrini faculty that the curriculum in many schools is out of touch with what is going on in the real world and to see real change students cannot just see the world in black and white. They need to see the big picture.

Willie Baptist, scholar-in-residence for the Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, said that he feels very hopeful about that progress that Cabrini is making. He talked about how this school could start a movement which could last long after the current students are gone and that what is going on here at Cabrini can be a model for what other schools can do.

He provided Cabrini faculty with guidance for the new core curriculum, Justice Matters, at a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 18, in the Wolfington Center.

“A question that needs to be asked is, ‘how can we give students across the country a better understanding of what social justice
is?” Baptist said.

Baptist talked to members of the faculty about trying to bring new and different ideas to the table on how to integrate the concept of social justice into the Cabrini curriculum.

Cabrini is beginning to implement a new curriculum that involves all students in social justice issues throughout their college career. Every student will work towards living for the common good of society with the ultimate goal being to transform Cabrini students to be life-long advocates for social justice.

“Social justice is giving every person what they need to have access to the best of human achievement,” Baptist said.

He talked about the many problems that our society is facing and how working towards social justice could change the world with time. Baptist stressed that people need to come together to solve problems and that most of the problems we see come down to intellectuality.

Baptist, who played baseball on a scholarship at Pepperdine University, grew up in Watts, a poor section of Los Angeles. He lived through the Watts riots which affected the way he views the world.

The Watts uprising was a five-day stream of riots in the South Central section of Los Angeles. It was one of the many riots in cities across the country occurring in the ’60s. The uprising, which occurred in the summer of 1966, began with a confrontation between local police and an African-American motorist.

The altercation with police fueled the riots along with frustrations against discrimination and poverty in the city. Ten thousand people crowded the streets causing $200 million in damage. Thirty-four people were killed with the uprising, representing the anger of the American poor population.

“Living through something like that really changes the way you look at what’s going on in the world,” Baptist said, “makes you want to take action.”

When Baptist was in the midst of his baseball career he idolized professional baseball player Jackie Robinson. One day when Baptist was watching an interview with him on television he heard a quote from Robinson that would be engrained in him forever and would encourage him to do the work he does every day. “A life is not important, except in the impact it has on other lives.”

Dr. Sharon Schwarze, a philosophy professor who has been teaching at Cabrini for 38 years, talked about how she found Baptist to be very interesting and inspirational. Schwarze agreed with his emphasis on theory and practice.

“I would love to have him here on our faculty at Cabrini,” Schwarze said. “He is someone who has been living through what we are trying to teach our students and he could pass a great deal of knowledge onto everyone in the Cabrini community.”

Baptist focused on the fact that society cannot be in agreement with the way things are happening. Every person needs to wake up and be aware of what is going on around them every day, he said.

“We can change things by not liking how they are and doing something about it,” Schwarze said.

Schwarze, who thinks the new initiatives for social justice are extremely positive steps that the college is taking, said that she is really grateful and excited about what is going on in this community.

Baptist said that education needs to give people a new way of looking at the world. “People need to start thinking in terms of us, us, we, instead of I, I, me,” Baptist said.

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Brian Loschiavo

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