My name is Katy Harris, and I am a third year Law student at YSJU. I have recently started working as the student intern for the Institute for Social Justice, a roll I’ll hold for the 2020-21 academic year.
I applied for the role because of my passion for social justice. Having experienced discrimination myself when applying to universities and learning the consequences of them within my studies I hope to be able to help of raise awareness for the prevention of injustice – particularly in the student community.
My role within the institute is to widen the participation of YSJ students in the discussion of social injustice. I aim to do this by exploring ideas of activism and also working towards a wider understanding of what social justice truly is.
Activism is not just protesting.
Activism is not just chaining yourself to railings.
Activism is about calling out injustice whenever you see it.
Activism is for everyone.
A thing that I have seen so far, is that some people tend to believe that if an issue doesn’t impact them directly then they shouldn’t speak out. In reality this is untrue. Social injustice affects us all. Race, gender, sexuality, wealth, opportunities, privileges are all struggles we are fighting for, and we all have a role to play in working for change.
Since I started the role in November, I have made a point of trying to get to know people working for social justice around the University. For example, I had a meeting with Equality and Diversity Officer, Marijie Davidson, Widening Participation Officer, Anna Deacon and Widening Participation Evidence and Impact Manager, Rachel Fennel, each of whom have first-hand knowledge of the inequalities that students face.
Marijie’s role within the university is it to focus on the inclusivity of students, ensuring that each cultural community feel that YSJ is a safe space for them. She shares believes that we – as a university – should celebrate diversity and not be complacent. Anna’s position as a wellbeing officer is to ensure that all communities – such as care leavers, trans students and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller students – are supported whilst studying at university. For example, for trans and non-binary students, Anna can help with name changes to student ID cards or e-mail address! Rachel’s responsibilities include measuring how successful the University is in relation to the inclusivity of students. This is measured against the 2020-21 Access and Participation Plan whereby YSJ’s working group will meet to review progress, learn from evaluation and plan ahead so that they achieve the aspirations set out in the plan to widen access and participation in higher education. Through meeting with these members of staff I gain a good understand of how diverse student voices are valued.
I also booked myself – and all my flatmates! – onto the ‘bystander training course’ run by the University’s All About Respect project. The aim of the project is to prevent sexual harassment and assault within the student community; ensuring each and every one of us have respect for one another. The bystander training course is a fantastic way of doing this by focusing on intervention behaviours. These type of prevention strategies are important as they can reduce the rates of incidents.
For myself one of the biggest lessons from this course, was that intervention does not have to be dramatic: it can be as minor as ensuring your friend gets home safe, expressing your dislike at somebody’s inappropriate remarks or walking aside someone who is being harassed so they do not feel alone.
Be an activist, not a bystander.
My work moving forward is explore how students at York St John engage with social justice issues, both within their formal studies and beyond. One way that I intend to do this is by posting a regular blog here. Throughout the year there are numerous dates that are design to promote and draw attention to social justice related causes. Each month I will select one of these and explore how students and staff at YSJU are impacted upon and engage with this topic. In January for example I will be focusing on cervical cancer awareness month and February’s blog will concern the celebration of women and girls in science, commemorating the 11th February as the international day of STEM.
Whatever the topic I hope to find out more, emplifying voices from across our university community and stressing that there is nothing too small when it comes to being an activist for social justice.