Doing Change: Education for Social Justice celebration

Doing Change is a celebration of York St John University’s commitment to education for social justice and the platform for the annual Archbishop of York Lecture in Social Justice This year, the event welcomed students from across the University to showcase their social justice projects and interests through poster presentations, film screenings and discussions with peers and event visitors. In this post, ISJ Intern Matthew Peyton reflects on his experience of the event. 

York St John students present posters

Exploring student projects and passions 

The event filled York St John’s Creative Centre with social justice action from across the University, including Film, Theatre, Sport, Psychology, English Literature and Geography (to name a few). Students explored a range of issues from within their discipline, along with reflection on the importance of the work for themselves as students and the wider community. Because so many students were involved in this event, they all offered a unique perspective on issues surrounding social justice. Topics presented included homelessness, poverty, disabilities, environment, and health. Many have been working on their projects since the start of the year and are passionate about social justice issues. 

Dream Café – Student led food system discovery  

One student-led project at the event was the ‘Dream Café’, an interactive piece that explored food in a collaborative manner. Created by Meg Padgett, an intern working with the Living Lab, explained that “the ‘Dream Café is a space that invites people to come along and envision what their ‘dream’ University café would be. What would it sell? What would it look like? What other events would happen there? How would it be sustainable, ethical and just? The ‘Dreaming Café’ will be a space where people can answer and discuss these questions and share any other thoughts, they may have about a university café.”

I asked Meg what it has been like working on her project and this event as a student. She explained, “As a student, I have first-hand experience of how food can impact students and therefore want to bring my own learning and experiences into my ongoing research, and into this event. I aim to continue to create collaborative, conversational places that explore food and do this through my conversations with other students.” 

Francisca Rockey, YSJ Geography student and founder of Black Geographers

Francisca Rockey presents on stage

One of the event’s keynote speakers was York St John student Francisca Rockey, who delivered a presentation about the Black Geographers Network, an organisation that aims to diversify the field of geography in academia. Talking with Francisca I asked, why is it important to engage with social justice as a student? Francisca explained that “from housing, healthcare and employment, social justice forms a large part of our everyday lives. As students, it’s important to learn and engage with social justice as it can help you to become a better global citizen.” From this, I asked, why is it important for a university to have those opportunities? Francisca explained, “it’s important for the university to have opportunities for students to get involved as York St John forms part of York’s wider community and giving back to the community expands our networks and connections with York residents and making our mark on the future of the city.”

A lecture of hope in challenging times  

The annual Archbishop of York Lecture in Social Justice was delivered by Fozia Irfan, a director at the BBC’s Children in Need. Fozia encouraged us to think critically about the work we are doing and how it can be the most impactful and helpful to those in need. Being able to attend and share the space with someone who has already made so many changes in their career in social justice was really inspiring. The lecture also made me reflect on what I had already seen at the event and the impact we can have as students and the challenging times we find ourselves in. Whilst we face many barriers to social justice today, hope for social change is possible if we work in collaboration and celebrate every step.

My experience and reflections 

I took part in the event firstly by helping with set up, and also by showcasing my previous work on the Cinema and Social Justice / Yorkshire Film Archive collaborative film ‘Cost of Living’. I was very much part of the action, with a stream of visitors asking questions and engaging with my poster and film preview set up in the Creative Centre. 

 I got to meet so many people from across the university that I may have never interacted with if I wasn’t involved with the event. I got to learn about other students’ work and speak with like-minded people who were passionate about their projects. I spoke to several guests, such as the former Vice Chancellor of York St John University Professor Dianne Willcocks and the Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell about the work and research I had done. Everyone I talked to how the work being presented at the event was so important about making the world a better place. 

I realised that the research and studying that we do as students in classrooms has potential for wider impact. The ideas that we discuss with our classmates and lecturers can grow and become something more than just ideas. The collective energy and the opportunity to come together in one event really showed that, with a passion for social justice, great things can happen.