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Eamon Keane / Gavel Media

What Does It Take to Be a Social Justice Warrior?

As observed during the recent rallies and protests both on campus and in Boston, social awareness, justice, and advocacy can be exhausting pursuits. We live in a time rife with uncertainty, injustice, and social concerns, and these concerns are presented to a governing body that constantly pushes to strip people of their rights. In addition to the need to critique and combat many of our own legislators, there are pervasive societal issues that must be addressed—widespread misogyny and rape culture are still alive and kicking, as is homophobia, xenophobia, classism, racism, massive wealth disparity, and more.

In the face of this widespread assault on the rights of many, one question comes to mind: is it everyone's duty to advocate for every possible cause, or is it permissible to simply focus on issues that are relevant or of most concern to you?

Interestingly enough—and despite what far-right “anti-SJWs” (anti-“social justice warrior”) would have you believe—the term “social justice” originated within the Catholic Church to describe Catholic social teaching. While some would argue that the term has been reworked by a modern-day “progressive agenda,” official Catholic doctrine maintains that everyone has inherent human dignity and should receive what is their due; isn't that all we strive for today?

So many issues that force us to take to the streets and hold rallies on our campuses are rooted in the denial of basic human dignity to certain marginalized groups. Ultimately, one could easily argue that—if one personally adheres to theological motivations—Catholic social teachings call upon us to advocate for all those whose rights, autonomy, and dignity are threatened every day, whether these transgressions personally affect you or not.

During the Silence is Still Violence rally last month on campus, several students were seen holding signs that read, “what would Jesus do?” Jesus would—and did—explicitly advocate for those downtrodden by society, for the poor, the ill, the ostracized, and the marginalized. He would invite those on the margins into a place of inclusivity, love, and acceptance.

When you analyze social justice issues from the view that we are all one human family and that we desire for everyone to seek a greater good, it becomes evident that the stripping of anyone’s dignity speaks to society and humankind as a whole, and should spark us all to do better. Be better.

Learn about privilege and participate in conversations that make you uncomfortable. Call out both microaggressions and large-scale injustices as you see them. Strive to educate those who are unaware of systematic inequalities and discrimination, and work for what can be done to combat them. All human issues are connected, and it is our duty, in the pursuit of equality and justice, to stand in solidarity with all whose rights are being threatened.

Being a proponent for many causes doesn't necessarily mean you need to drop all your other obligations to attend every march and rally—although your presence is incredibly significant. However, we do have the responsibility to denounce inequality and discrimination across the board, and make our best efforts to eliminate it within our lives and the lives of those around us.

Those who fight for social justice should be active participants in conversation and action, in order to defend and empower those in marginalized communities. But it is also important to know when to take a step back and allow those with defining experiences to make their voices heard. This way, we can be better allies and work toward a better future, where all people can exist with dignity.

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