The world as it should be
February 20 is World Day of Social Justice. Here, Globalists Editorial Staff speaks with Arva Hassonjee, a senior international relations and citizenship and civic engagement major at Syracuse University, about the global inequality facing us today and the ways students can tackle it. Hassonjee has led protests for social justice reform on the Syracuse campus and is a current intern at Oxfam America, which works on alleviating poverty, hunger and social injustice.
Globalists: As one of the students leading the protest against the current administration's Muslim ban 2 years ago, did you happen to encounter any obstacles during the protest? How did you face the situation, if so?
When President Trump announced the Muslim ban, there was so much opposition, especially amongst our generation that leading the protest in the university area did not lead to the sorts of obstacles one might face if they were organizing a rally somewhere else in the city. The largest challenge was spreading the word because we organized the rally in just a couple days. We also informed DPS that something of the sorts would be taking place and we had designated marshalls to ensure safety.
Globalists: Have you ever personally gone through a situation where lack of social justice had an adverse effect on you?
I'd say as most minorities, I think our lives are situations where if you travel from zip code to zip code, people view your humanity differently for some reason, they see you as "the other." This creates for so many situations where there is a lack of social justice. I deal with this by speaking my own truth and advocating for others who are being marginalized.
Globalists: What are some of the social justice issues that you think are currently being faced by the SU campus community?
With the racially charged assault that happened on Ackerman earlier this month or the Theta Tau videos that were spread across campus last year, it's clear our community has serious issues regarding racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, and respect for people with disabilities. A deeper rooted issue of social justice is related to the land our University stands on, all of our University's events now begin with an acknowledgment with respect to the Onondaga Nation, the indigenous people on whose ancestral lands SU now stands. However, these are things that are public knowledge. There are people in our campus community who face barriers because of their gender, race, ethnicity, culture, or disability on a daily basis so there's lots of work to do.
Globalists: How effective has the Oxfam at SU chapter you co-founded been at addressing social justice issues?
Oxfam's goal globally is to fight the injustices of poverty by focusing on social, economic, political, and climate injustice. It's a very comprehensive approach. At SU, we're a collegiate chapter, of course, and we've done things like co-organize the Rally for Refugees, we've hosted multiple self-defense workshops, we work with community-based organizations in the city, and we also spark dialogue about the roots of these injustices at our meetings and events.
Globalists: And on that note, what can students or the campus community as a whole do to tackle social justice and improve the way we face these challenges?
On an individual level, get to know other people and their stories, that will make you a better advocate for social justice. When you see something unjust, call it out. As a campus community, we have a lot of reflecting to do. We need each school, from Whitman and Newhouse to College of Arts and Sciences and the iSchool to take this seriously. Administrators, faculty, staff, and students need to be engaged in dialogue on how to constructively deal with these issues.
Globalists: Right now you are interning at Oxfam in DC. Standing at a higher level, how would you judge social justice on a global level? Is there still a long way to go or have we made significant strides — or both?
There are both losses and strides. Women suffer from sexual abuse in every country, people's skin tone impacts how they're treated across the globe, and religious persecution still exists (look at the Uyghurs or the Rohingya's). However, we have organizations like Oxfam on the ground in over 90 countries developing long-lasting approaches to tackle these injustices. The strides are mostly for particular communities or peoples within an area.