By: Nikole Kamp – Senior English Major
An event bursting with student passion, driven by student vision, and constructed by student hands, for the sake of other students hearing about social injustices: Consciousness Rising is a small but powerful outcry for justice on the University of Dayton campus.
The one-day event, comprised of exhibits, speakers and vendors focused around a central theme, on the list of UD’s annual human rights education events. This year the interactive experience unfolded on Saturday, March 11, from 12:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. on the second floor of Kennedy Union.
In recent years, the central theme has varied. This year, the planning committee, consisting of senior co-presidents, Lauren Chipchak and Katie Brossart, along with seven other student leaders, landed on environmental justice. “We realized the intersectional nature of environmental justice,” said Brossart. “And how much human rights sometimes fails to talk about the ways people are impacted by our environment.”
The committee chose to speak up in the form of three exhibits: a pollution exhibit about plastic in the sea, a mock separation wall about the environmental and human rights abuses caused by the separation wall in the West Bank, and an exhibit covering the Flint water crisis.
Walking on the path of footprints that guides attendees through the exhibits, one can see the urgency of students’ passion about justice portrayed in their creativity. Issues were brought to life through striking statistics, clever visual representations, and personal stories from some of those affected by the crises.
Each exhibit first educated about the issue, then proceeded to present alternatives and means for participants to act through ideas for advocating and suggestions of sustainable substitutions for everyday products, like reusable plastic bags or straws.
Alongside the exhibits, speakers presented attendees with their two unique stories regarding environmental justice.
Stephen Mackell, farm director at Mission of Mary Farm Cooperative, shared about his work with sustainable urban farming in East Dayton. Mission of Mary engages in urban agriculture and land restoration as well as community education, creating a dual focus of relationships and health.
Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture, Dr. Vincent Miller, followed Mackell with a presentation incorporating both conversation and music. He shared about Laudato Si, a papal encyclical from Pope Francis that focuses on the spiritual responsibility Christians have over the environment.
While speaking, Miller talked about the sadness of human disconnectedness from the environment – one that he claimed we ought to be connected to the way we were intended to be.
“I’m living in a world of stories that I’m not hearing,” Miller said with heaviness, as he responded to an audience member about cultural blindness to food sourcing. Miller encouraged students to reflect on their experiences with connection in a technological age where human connection can end up a rather low priority.
After attendees checked out the exhibits and heard from the speakers, many could be found browsing the vendors – Ten Thousand Villages fair trade boutique from Cincinnati, products from Zambian women sold by UD organization Determined to Develop, scarves from Students for Justice in Palestine, and one table devoted to UD’s environmentally-conscious River Stewards.
In leaving, the hope was that attendees, however few or many attend each year, left better equipped to practically participate in changing the world. So a tagline like “Local Action, Global Impact” is only appropriate. The organization’s mission is rather simple in nature: to throw the small stone of educating on a local level in the hopes of change rippling out to shape the world. According to Brossart, this is the true vision of Consciousness Rising past and present. “The small things done on our campus,” she said, “The hearts changed, the people educated; those really can have an impact around the world.”
That said, the planning process is not always simple or easy. Due to budget cuts, Chipchak and Brossart had to tackle the challenges of making a less-expensive event equally as powerful for those in attendance. Future committees and co-presidents will face the same test.
After this year’s success, what is the hope for the future of Consciousness Rising? “I hope that we can get more people involved in raising awareness,” said Christine Driscoll, UD senior and Consciousness Rising committee member. “People really need to focus on things not only global but right here in Ohio that we can do to decrease the human rights abuses happening, even in the US.”
Said Brossart, “I just really hope it [continues to be] a place for people who are passionate to come together and educate campus.”
Photo courtesy of Christian Luigi Cubacub – Multimedia Editor