The Social Justice Initiative (SJI) at UIC is a campus-wide project that grew out of several streams of activity and discussion. Begun as a collective effort in 2010 by UIC faculty, staff, students, administrators and community partners, SJI seeks to build upon and foreground a critically important part of our mission as a diverse public research university in a global but often contested city. Our student body is composed of a large number of immigrant and first generation students, Black, Latino, Asian-American, and working class whites whose families and home communities are rich in talent, human resources, wit and wisdom, but still confront an amalgam of problems and challenges. Many of our students, even those who come from more privileged backgrounds, are motivated and passionate about using their education and energy to give back to struggling communities, and in essence, “change and improve the world.” SJI respects that idealism, and wants to help young people add to it a set of critical thinking and research skills that will make them more effective social change agents and ethical and socially conscious professionals. SJI does this through our ongoing programs and projects, and we continue to seek nuanced ways of creating positive change and learning in our institutions and communities.
It is UIC’s unique mission that has attracted like-minded scholars and students to our campus from around the world. From those working to reduce health disparities and realize greater health equity, to those seeking to combat street violence, state violence and mass incarceration, to those working to revitalize public schools, UIC researchers have wrestled with the meaning and practice of social justice over the course of long and accomplished careers. In the arts and humanities, scholars have written, created and analyzed work that provokes, inspires, complicates and enlivens our thinking about what ‘justice’ is, whether there is a universal standard of justice, and what justice looks like from different social locations. Over 200 UIC faculty and staff describe their research, teaching, and professional work as social justice related. From studies of lynching to oral histories of undocumented workers, UIC scholars are engaged in life altering research that is making a difference in the world. Similarly, UIC staff help students to secure internships at community based organizations, recruit and support a diverse group of young people to attend the university, and organize programming on social issues for the campus and the wider public.
Campus workers are also a part of our learning and activist community. The people who are a part of buildings and grounds, housekeeping, food services and the clerical staff, bring to the University an often undervalued knowledge-base, skill set, and perspective. We recognize their contributions and sacrifices and seek to listen to and benefit from their stories and insights as we build a holistic social justice community, honest about our flaws and inequalities, yet striving to build something better for ourselves and others.