Veronica Gonzales, student at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University, is no stranger to difficult conversations about race and gender inequality.
The junior with a dual specialization in political science and English has been discussing the challenges and discrimination they face with her mother and sister for years.
Veronica Gonzales, ASU Barrett, The Honors College junior with a double major in Political Science and English, is a member of the Justice Equity Honors Network, a collaboration between Barrett Honors College at ASU and Macaulay Honors College at City University of New York.
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âThese injustices and inequalities were first brought to my attention when I was younger through my older sister and my mother, both of whom showed me the reality of being a woman of color. . I witnessed discrimination against them, and their experiences and who they are as people made me feel like I wanted to change the world, or at least make a little difference in it, âGonzales said.
Therefore, when Gonzales heard of the Fairness in Justice Honors Network, a collaboration between Barrett, The Honors College and Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York, she wanted to get involved.
The network was co-founded by Olga Idriss Davis, professor and associate dean of ASU Honors College on the downtown Phoenix campus, and Joseph Ugoretz, Senior Associate Dean and Director of Studies at Macaulay Honors College.
The Network is a certificate program comprising multidisciplinary specialist courses and activities focused on issues of injustice, incivility and political disengagement.
The program began this fall with a first cohort of students, called JEHN Fellows, from the two specialized colleges. Weekly online courses are co-taught by Barrett Honors Faculty Fellow Rachel Fedock and professor at Macaulay Honors College Zohra Saed.
A summer conference that will bring together JEHN Fellows from Arizona and New York in person is being planned. The program could be expanded to include other specialist colleges in the future.
Davis said the idea for the Justice Equity Honors Network stemmed from the events and crises of 2020, including a global pandemic, outrage over police violence and systemic racism, long-standing assaults on black lives and black culture, political polarization and growing economic disparities, destruction of the environment and a dangerous degradation of civic norms.
âWe felt that we needed something academic to respond to these events by focusing on the values ââof the American democratic society, justice, equality and fairness,â she said.
âWe wanted to create a network of honors where high performing young future leaders see the value of collaboration with a conscience that recognizes their responsibility to transform our turbulent world. Having a network, a community like this, is unique to a specialized university experience. JEHN offers a vision of possibilities beyond our imagination.
âIt’s really hard to have conversations about topics like inequality, injustice and incivility, but these are conversations we need to have. We need to educate the students: âHere are things that previous generations did not clean up before you arrived. We have to give you the story so that now you can pass it on, teach others and create change, âDavis added.
Ugoretz said the network aims to tackle the division that is raging in the country.
âWe are a fractured country that feels so divided. Bringing together talented young people across these divisions is one way to heal this rupture and inform the decisions they will make in the future, âhe said.
What is unique about the network, according to Ugoretz, is “the fact that it is aimed specifically at specialist students, and in particular at a network.”
“These are the things that set this program apart from existing ethnic studies or social justice programs,” he said. using their skills to heal their world and they feel a strong desire to connect, in a network, with other students like them across the country.
Gonzales said she learned about various cultures and social issues that impact marginalized groups, such as black, Latino and Indigenous women and communities.
âI think what’s so important and awesome about JEHN is the way we learn those parts of the story that we maybe never got a chance to discuss at all. Along these lines, I also learned how to have these types of conversations properly and how to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. It is only by discussing these issues that we can begin to create change, âshe said.
Sierra Santiago, a second year student at Macaulay Honors College, majoring in political science with a minor in African and Puerto Rican / Latino studies, said through the network that she has learned to critically analyze world history and has gained knowledge of systemic oppression in the fields of education and criminal justice.
âAlthough the American education system generally covers ‘important’ events in this nation’s history, there are still many stories of colonization and subjection that remain unsaid,â she explained.
âHaving stimulating discussions and experiences is crucial to developing a complete and complete worldview. Learning to reclaim and reframe the ‘American’ narrative to new multicultural perspectives and characterize public issues is essential to protect all through fair legislation, âshe said.
Anusha Natajaran, Barrett, The Honors College junior majoring in Sociology and History, uses her experience to inform her honors thesis, which focuses on how Arizona history is described in textbooks and the lack of history and culture regarding communities of color.
âI am very interested in cultural education because many people who identify as a person of color have been excluded from our curriculum, like our textbooks or our stories,â she said.
Natajaran said through the network that she learned of Arizona’s role in removing Native American youth from their homes and sending them to residential schools that stripped them of their culture.
âArizona is one of the states that has had residential schools, and the story behind them is dark and brutal. JEHN fills this gap that we missed in our social studies curriculum, âshe said.
Alejandra Maya, senior at Barrett, The Honors College majoring in political science, said students shouldn’t have to wait until college to learn about justice and equity issues.
âIt’s a huge problem because not everyone decides to pursue higher education, which is good. But it is not acceptable that current and future generations are not exposed to these difficult subjects. These topics are real life experiences that every person in the world is exposed to. It is important to educate and make students aware of the environment in which we live, âshe said, adding that this is what the network does.
“JEHN has deepened my knowledge of the systemic issues we face as a nation and as a collective whole,” said Elisa Thomas, Barrett, The Honors College Junior Honors in Sociology with minors in Justice Studies and political science.
âI appreciate the depth and variety of sources we examine: historical texts, current affairs reports, documentaries, YouTube videos and poems. I think this range of knowledge is incredibly valuable for nurturing a strong discourse among students. “
Gabrielle Erves, a second year computer science student at Macaulay Honors College, said she appreciated “having a safe space to discuss issues.”
“I think it’s very important because the first way to solve these problems is to have conversations about them that are productive and that help move the ball forward and promote change.”
The Justice Equity Honors Network is looking for a new cohort of specialist students for the 2022-2023 academic year. The the application is now open, and the deadline to apply is December 20.