On November 4, 2014, over 250 Azusa Pacific University students across all disciplines gathered for a two-part dialogue to examine the question: “Is There Such a Thing as Social Justice?” The former part of the dialogue involved an APU faculty panel of six professors split into two sides: those who favor and those who question the existence of social justice. The latter part of the dialogue involved the students, split into small groups of four or five, in discussing their own opinions about social justice.
Professors from multiple disciplines participated on the panel: Dr. Kathryn Ecklund from Psychology, Dr. Brad Hale from History, Dr. Craig Keen from Theology, Dr. Keith Reeves from Biblical Studies, Dr. Richard Slimbach from Global Studies, and Dr. Stuart Strother from Economics. The audience discovered a spectrum of insights from those who think the concept of social justice is integral to socioeconomic stability and those who think social justice is a nonexistent concept.
“The best part about tonight’s dialogue is that it promoted listening over speaking; especially when there are so many different perspectives. We ought to hear each other out when we discuss polarizing issues such as social justice,” said Jennifer, a sophomore business marketing student.
During the faculty dialogue the moderator, Dr. Bala Musa, posed a range of questions for the panel to consider. Some of those questions included: What is your definition of social justice? What is the responsibility of the individual with respect to social justice issues? How much of the said responsibility should be shared by the government? Although there were certainly disagreements among the panelists over the issues, the discussion remained thoughtful and respectful.
“It’s great that we can make room to talk about some of these issues. Sometimes, we just sweep the controversial things under the rug, which is unhealthy for an intellectual environment,” said Chase, a junior economics student.
What made the night truly successful was not only the faculty dialogue, but also the student involvement. At the end of the faculty dialogue, students swarmed the microphone as they tried to present their own questions for the panelists to discuss. “If we have the extra resources, is it unjust if we do not use it to help others?” asked a young woman during the Q&A session. Dr. Strother replied, “Of course we should use our wealth to help others. The question is, does this responsibility fall into the hands of the individual or the government?”
Under time constraints, not all Q&A questions were able to be answered by the panelists. However, students had the opportunity after the faculty dialogue to either speak with the panelists individually, or form into groups of four or five to further the discourse over the topic of social justice. The Executive Council presented the students with a few questions to start the discussion, but encouraged each group to come up with their own questions. One group discussed the arguments of those who were doubtful of social justice. The question that came up repeatedly was “If, indeed social justice does not exist, what concept would replace it?”
By discovering, evaluating, and discussing the merits and demerits of social justice, students were able to gain deeper insights into the topic. At the end of the night, “Is There Such a Thing as Social Justice?” raised more questions than answers. However, students left the building empowered with a culture of dialogue.