The University Record, January 24, 1994

Panelists agree there is a long way to go to achieve social justice

By Rebecca A. Doyle
News and Information Services

Looking back over the past 25 years, “I’m not sure where we’ve gone,” says Rick Olguin, professor of social sciences at North Seattle Community College, “Our schools and our neighborhoods are more racially stratified than they were 25 years ago.

The question, he said, is perhaps not so much one of humanity and equality as it is “whether or not we can get along.”

Olguin said that the agenda of the civil rights movement of the 1960s has carried us as far as it can and that it is time to “begin building on this agenda.”

Olguin also said that it “may well be that this will be about limiting the rights of free speech if it threatens an individual or a group’s safety, just like you don’t let people shout ‘fire’ in a public theater.”

We need to bring back the real meaning of the word “civility” and include it in our relationships and interactions with each other, he concluded.

Olguin was the first of four speakers to address the issue of social justice as part of a Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium panel that drew an audience of more than 125.

Sharon McPhail, chief of Screening and District Courts for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office; James A. Chaffers, professor of architecture; and Gail M. Nomura, lecturer in American culture and history rounded out the panel.

“We have to raise the consciousness about the level of our own bigotry or nothing will ever change,” asserted McPhail. “Before we attack prejudice, we must attack the issue of selfishness.”

McPhail, who lost a bid for mayor of Detroit to Dennis Archer, said the University “is in a unique position to remind us how [social justice] affects us every day, but it doesn’t want to.” She also said that corporate America should adopt a quota system for hiring minorities.

Chaffee said that we should be concerned with human justice.

“We must re-orient ourselves as to the value, the worth of each human. We need to clarify the ideals of what is worth concentrating on, what is worthy of our struggle,” he said. “Justice is the practice of raising questions of what is worthwhile.”

Nomura said that when she had been asked to define herself in three words, she had chosen “compassionate, commitment and activism.”

“We need to work with the idealism, the preservation of cultural diversity within the United States, and toward caring about the community we live in.”

Touching specifically on multiculturalism and goals of diversity, she said, “It seems odd that we’re still struggling with this at the beginning of the 21st century. Probably there’s another session like this as we turn into the 22nd century. I hope that we will have worked with this issue and resolved it somewhat.”