Kudos to the ‘DEIS Impacter team and to everyone who helped make the second annual DEIS Impact, the Brandeis University festival of social justice, such a rousing success.  More than 1000 students and other members of the Brandeis community participated in more than 40 events from February 1-11, 2013.   The keynote event, with Hollywood star Eliza Dushku and her mother Judy (who teaches at Suffolk University), inspired hundreds with the story of ThriveGULU, a start-up NGO in Uganda that addresses issues of child soldiers, sex slavery and other post-conflict concerns in Uganda.  A great partnership between the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life and the Student Union; special thanks to Marci McPhee and Todd Kirkland for their leadership.

One of the heartening things about the event was the opportunity it affords to talk in depth about meanings of social justice.  My own thoughts on this subject, published in this blog a few months ago, sparked some discussion and pointed critiques.  Others proposed alternate ideas and definitions.

Many people in the DEIS Impact events made the point that social justice has different meanings for different people  in different contexts.  Maybe so, but it struck me that there were three important features of social justice that seemed to appear consistently amidst this diversity of ideas:

First, social justice is concerned with the basic needs and the human dignity of people in need and those suffering from oppression.

Second, social justice has an equal concern with improving the lives of individuals, and fostering broad-based social change that will have a positive impact on the lives of many.

Third, social justice is not a solitary activity; it operates in the spirit of collective action.

Finally, I would add that one of the most important elements of undertaking social justice in a university context is the conscious effort to marry deep reflection and analysis with positive and concrete action.  Social justice should draw on our passions – empathy and principles and outrage.  But it should also be undertaken with the attitude of rigorous self-examination and humility, conscious always that good intentions are no guarantee of doing good.

It’s my hope that DEIS Impact will be nurturing and challenging the spirit of social justice on the Brandeis campus for many years to come!