Students, faculty urged to become action oriented for social justice

April 09, 2019

In an era where political, economic and social disruptions are creating inequalities, society can look to the nineteenth century social reformer Jane Addams as a thought leader in social justice and how it can be enacted today.

Professor Donna Ladkin discussed Addams’ ideas and work to faculty, students and staff from Western Education and Brescia University College.

She said Addams took a different approach when it came to helping others – one that today’s society should consider. Addams believed social justice begins when people become action oriented, which means other peoples’ problems become your problems. This leads people to develop sympathy for others.

“It’s really trying to get into the shoes of the other person,” explained Ladkin.

Only when sympathetic understanding has occurred can a ‘caring with’ attitude develop. Once this attitude has been formed, people must become proactive in helping others. For Addams, it’s peoples’ duty to alleviate social inequality when they notice it, said Ladkin.

“It’s not hitting ‘like’ on your Facebook feed,” she said.

Ladkin stressed there must be a fundamental shift in how society helps the less fortunate for social justice to occur. The current ‘caring about’ attitude must change.

Addams’ lived in the 1880s when philanthropists ‘cared about’ the less fortunate. While their goal was to create a more socially just society, they didn’t interact and didn’t understand the lives of those they were trying to help. It was a top-down approach that created a power imbalance between those wanting to help and those who were being helped.

Ladkin illustrated an example of the Chicago philanthropists’ attitude. They established rules, such as limiting how much people could drink, as a condition for receiving assistance.

Addams ran Hull House in Chicago, which was a centre that helped immigrants and she worked to stop the use of children as industrial labourers. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her efforts to get nations to disarm and sign peace agreements.

Besides speaking at the Faculty of Education, Ladkin, a professor of leadership and ethics in the Graduate School of Leadership and Change at Antioch University, also spoke at the Ivey Business School.