Making Waves: Institute for Social Justice PGR Symposium

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the cancellation of many events, conferences and gatherings that York St John University has previously played host to. However, during these challenging times the Institute for Social Justice at York St John University hosted its very first conference after launching during 2020. The Institute for Social Justice is about collaborative research and practice that seeks to identify, expose and address some of the inequalities, injustices and challenges facing society today. The virtual symposium titled ‘Making Waves’ took place on 15 March 2021 and provided an opportunity for postgraduate researchers from across the University to showcase their research.

The forming of Making Waves was undertaken by three postgraduate researchers within the Institute for Social Justice at YSJ. Much thought and deliberation went into deciding how to pitch the conference and the title developed rather organically. When discussing the aims of our own research, Alice Little, Ruth Lambley and I agreed that what may start as just one research project can grow into something more powerful and significant, much as a wave grows from a small ripple. As a group of postgraduate researchers, in the early stages of our PhD journeys, we hoped that Making Waves would feed our imaginations, perceptions, and challenge us to consider what is possible in social justice research. The Making Waves symposium certainly delivered on this mission statement, with eight fantastic PhD researchers from a range of discipline sharing their research and explaining they seek to promote social justice.

The conference was commenced by a guest speaker who has certainly made waves in the field of social justice since graduating York St John University in 2012. Jake Furby, representing Friends Provident Foundation, spoke about social justice representing more than equality, more than equity, and should in fact be about the removal of all barriers to create a truly inclusive society. For Jake, the social justice agenda has always been central in their thoughts, as Jake outlined how they started a small-scale activism movement in their high school based around the pop song ‘Where is the Love?’ Jake’s championing of the rights of York’s LGBTQ+ community has been formally recognised by the York Civic Trust for the fantastic contribution they made to the city’s wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is these positive and powerful actions like the those undertaken by Jake that the Institute for Social Justice seeks to implement.

Special thanks are paid to the York St John University postgraduate researchers who delivered powerful and though-provoking presentations – Andrew Pennington, Anna Glarin, Hannah Cutting, Lucy Hurst, Catherine Birch, Liz Cox, Nicola McAteer and Lauren Hall, contact details for all researchers are available on request. A prominent theme within the presentations delivered was the importance of language and the power of words. In order to challenge social injustice, it is imperative that everyone has a voice and that appropriate platforms are provided for all to communicate, learn, and succeed together. Simultaneously, the importance of listening was emphasised to educate those who have previously held prejudices and thus removing access barriers. The take home message was that to promote social justice all people need to be permitted to create their own identity, their own interdependence and be permitted agency throughout the life course. 

On a personal note being a researcher in the first six months of a PhD, Making Waves provided me a window through which to view my fellow PGRs research. The symposium stimulated thought about what impact I am seeking to make and how I aim to do so. What really stood out for me was the encouragement and supported provided throughout the symposium. Within a two hours virtual conference a real sense of companionship and community developed.

The symposium brought together postgraduate researchers and academics from across the University and it was fantastic to listen to the organic questions and conversations which followed each presentation. It is for this reason that Making Waves was devised and we hope to make this an annual event, albeit hopefully in person next year! Finally, thank you to all those who attended and contributed to the Making Waves symposium.


Matthew Green

PG researcher, Institute for Social Justice.