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Social justice in UAlbany plan draft part of ‘changed’ world

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University at Albany Vice presidents Micheal Christakis and James Stellar speak at a strategic plan draft “roadshow” forum at the School of Public Health in Rensselaer.
Tyler A. McNeil / ASP

Social justice wasn’t mentioned in the University at Albany’s last strategic plan seven years ago.

In a recently released draft for the next plan, social justice and sustainability are listed as one of six institutional values. Its description: to care for the environment and each other in a thriving ecosystem.

James Stellar, provost and co-chair of the Strategic Planning Committee, linked the usage of social justice in the draft to cultural movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.

“I think the world has changed,” said Stellar.

The new value, along with the rest of the draft, has taken reviews from faculty and administration during the first several presentations of a 21-stop “roadshow.” Some expressed confusion over the pairing of social justice and sustainability; some sounded praise.

During a draft presentation at the Health Science Campus, Jan Conn, a research professor in the School of Public Health, suggested that the two terms would be more appropriate if they were separated.

Some pointed at other potential flaws with the verbatim. Michael Parker, Internet Technology Services associate director of communications, described social justice as a “loaded term” at an ITS Building presentation.

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist, director of Government & Community Relations, in an email Monday, stated that Parker was pointing out how some may react to the word to create discussion.

Outside of the presentations, for Bobby Walker, executive director for the New York Federation of College Republicans, the value’s description appears appropriate.

But Walker’s taken fault with other uses of the term which he believes alienate conservative views. Walker cited polarizing incidents like last year’s riots at the University of California, Berkeley when some far-left protesters pushed to cancel several far-right provocateurs from speaking on campus.

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“The liberal movement has kid of coined it into something that [is political] and a lot of conservatives, too,” said Walker. “And I’ll admit, when I hear the word ‘social justice,’ the first thing I think about is political, like, ‘Oh God, here we go.’”

On campus, the Student Association has come under fire for making statements flagged as political by some conservative students. The SA senate stood against the White House travel ban, the end of DACA, and in November, sponsored an event in support of Colin Kaepernick, a former NFL player who protested racial profiling by kneeling for the flag during the national anthem.

For SA President Jerlisa Fontaine, also a member of the SPC, social justice is important to discuss.  

“I feel like anything that targets a specific demographic of the student body should be addressed by the university,” she said.

In SPC’s public engagement & outreach workshop, Carleo-Evangelist said social justice was referenced in terms of producing alumni who do “good in the world.”

Both social justice and sustainability were paired by the SPC’s executive committee last month.

Mary Ann Mellia, director of Sustainability, initially advocated for sustainability to be listed in the draft. Like social justice, sustainability was not listed as an institutional value in the 2010 plan.  

“I agree with the idea that we want people to understand that sustainability involves a little bit more than just the environment,” said Mellia. “There’s a little more ecology and interaction.”


Tyler A. McNeil is the current managing editor for the Albany Student Press. The Capital Region native previously served as managing editor for The Hudsonian, and as an intern for the Times Union and Capital Tonight.

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