From front-page headlines about Trump and neo-Nazis to op-ed pieces about racists and domestic terrorists, it can often feel as if the world is living in an immutable era of social injustice. However, the preservation and, most importantly, the rise of various social justice movements throughout the past several years have shown that in spite of the hatred that permeates society, love, in all its forms, continues to be an antidote to social division.
The love that buds from hatred is the result of an ever-growing desire to make social activism intersectional. Social justice movements, and its primary organizations, are central to the promotion of intersectionality because they have become the mediums through which silenced populations can vocalize their anxieties and disillusions about current socio-political environments. Many of these silenced populations are composed of individuals who perceive their identity as a pluralized concept that interweaves labels and bridges the gap between multiple social categories.
To practice intersectional activism is to express love because it supports diversity by acknowledging that people are just as complex as their interests and concerns are. To practice intersectional activism is to denounce the belief that some social problems are more important than others. Most of all, it deemphasizes the idea that belonging to certain social categories signifies an exclusive allegiance to a specific socio-political cause. Instead, it actually advocates for the opposite.
School organizations across campus such as the Black Student Union and the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities are just a few of the communities that not only continue to embrace diversity, but also function as outlets of safety and support.
When asked about the primary goal of the Black Student Union, Vice President Danielle McNeil responded, “To provide a safe haven and feeling of home for minority students, first-generation students, Caribbean students, and not only African-American students.” Interestingly enough, Keywuan Caulk, the Assistant Director for The Center of Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities, had a similar response about the center’s overall aim. Caulk said, “The goal of the center is to be a home, a safe place, a place of advocacy and education, and a community for all things gender, sexuality, and social justice education.”
Although the names of these organizations seem to address contrastive issues, the convergence of their goals suggests that they are not, foundationally, that different at all. Even so, the Black Student Union prides themselves in, as Danielle McNeil stated, “Covering a nice amount of topics to avoid being stagnant.” These topics range from addressing mental health issues, rape culture, or even focusing on youth activists under the age of thirty. The organization’s attempt to be keep conversations about injustice diverse is similar to the method of The Center of Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities because they also choose to cover a wide range of social problems that intersect with gender and sexuality such as stereotypes, discrimination, and differences in power and oppression.
By discussing sensitive topics that afflict many of their members, these two organizations are able to build love from something inherently hateful. Therefore, love continues to be at the center of the activism that these two groups practice.
Asking people to personally define love is quite difficult because love, like identity, is both subjective and a multifaceted emotion. Despite this difficulty, both McNeil and Caulk seem to agree that love is unconditional.
For McNeil, unconditional love is expressed by checking in on members regularly. McNeil said that some members may often feel as if their efforts go unnoticed, so to prevent this feeling she makes her priority to tell them that she sees them and she’s proud of what they’re doing.
On the other hand, when asked to define love, Caulk said, “Love is the courage to feel from a deep space.” He describes his practice as leading from the heart and educating from compassion. For Caulk, love and social justice are intersected, but he acknowledges that there are distinctive approaches to practicing social justice. His just happens to believe that love really does conquer all.
There is no doubt about the fact that defining love is difficult, but the act of giving a meaning to something so complex as love is critical to overcoming the structures of hate that make discussions of injustice uncomfortable or unwanted. Love allows these communities to thrive in an academic environment with distinct racial, religious, cultural, or gender identities. To be an intersectional activist is to be a proponent for love.
Both of these communities strive to incorporate intersectionality in their fight for social justice. McNeil even stressed that the Black Student Union does not limit non-black Rutgers students from joining. McNeil said, “We don’t want people to think that our issues are only black, or only about issues affecting our e-board.”
She also stated that the Black Student Union most recently got critiqued by Felicia McGinty, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at Rutgers, for not catering enough events for non-black students in response to their annual Unity Day.
“The flyers [for Unity Day] don’t say only for black students. Our name doesn’t mean we are not welcoming of other communities,” McNeil said.
In fact, the Vice President of the Black Student Union last year identified as Asian. Caulk similarly emphasized that identity is “layered.” When asked if he believed that people are not obligated to identify with a specific label to support a cause, Caulk responded, “Allyship is necessary and welcomed.”
He believes that each individual has a gender—or not—a race, an economic status, and an even larger list of social identities that create their person. He also finds that that The Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities is able to communicate and bond with other on-campus organizations so well because, “There is a common desire for liberation, access, and unity.”
This common desire for unity is echoed by McNeil who recalled her experience at the RU Black Lives Matter march in Newark against Trump. She said, “Seeing allies come out, it was like a reaffirmation that even if we’re racially different, we come together for a common cause. It feels like a hug.”
The Black Student Union has also presented themselves as allies in the past by showing up to rallies organized by other groups on campus. They rallied with undocumented students and refugees last year, and interestingly enough, co-sponsored their opening banquet with the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities with Keywuan Caulk as the keynote speaker.
Caulk also made note of the fact that he and other staff members at the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities not only pride themselves on educating students on how to be active participants at rallies, but also in their ability to always show up to these events.
Whether it’s rallying against institutional social injustice or co-sponsoring events for the diverse student body at Rutgers, these two communities have promoted an environment of acceptance and fraternity. Although the Black Student Union and the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities are not the only groups on campus advocating for progressive social change, their organizations still function as major platforms that attempt to bridge the gap between disparate identities and beliefs.
While the leadership journeys of Keywuan Caulk and Danielle McNeil are separate and unique, their forms of activism value love for others above all, and amid a tense societal climate that brims with hate and abuse from all sides of the spectrum, their faith in love seems so right.