Over the summer, we learned that the Social Justice Residential College for 2023-24 had been canceled through senior fellows who were told that they would need to shift their teaching schedules as junior fellows were told they would need to identify alternative housing and employment for the year. The announcement to cancel this living-learning community was especially shocking as it seemed to happen suddenly and unilaterally, came on the heels of a supreme court decision against race-conscious admissions programs in higher education, and could potentially appear targeted against a high-impact educational practice that alum identified as “a refuge for [minoritized] students to discuss social justice issues” that “taught minoritized students how to advocate for their rights at Bucknell”.
Student testimonials about why and how SoJo was a meaningful place and presence on campus poured in and were published on a wordpress site as SoJo fellows and other faculty met with administration to discuss ways forward. Because of the good work, vocal advocacy, and dedication of Junior Fellows and Senior Fellows, most of whom are AAUP members, along with faculty and staff allies, and students using their voice and power, SoJo lives on in the form of a new, quarter-credit lunch seminar aimed at mitigating the gap left by the Social Justice Residential college for the 23-34 school year. Importantly, our organizing efforts secured credit and compensation for the Junior Fellows (for whom the cancellation of SoJo had meant the end of a campus job) and the Senior Fellows. This course, “RESC121: Social Justice Learning Community,” aims to continue the discussions, connections, and support typically provided by SoJo until it returns as a residential college in 24-25. Once the course went online in late August, the response was overwhelming: RES121 exceeded its cap within a week of going on the books, with a waitlist of over 15 students, and a continuation course is slated to run again in Spring 2024. Currently, the class has met four times, and is in the process of forming student organizing breakout groups around campus issues such as student labor, food justice, and cross-cultural solidarity at Bucknell.
We still have concerns on how the initial decision to cancel this program was made. We recognize that we must be prepared to continue to collaborate and advocate for spaces and opportunities to bring about a more equitable Bucknell. At the same time, we are incredibly grateful to all who used their collective and individual power to ensure the continuation of the SoJo presence on campus and all that we can learn from this about how to work against untransparent decision making and true workplace democracy. The lesson is an age-old one worth repeating: When we fight, we win!