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York St John University launches new Institute for Social Justice
York St John University has emphasised its efforts to help tackle some of the big social, economic, and environmental challenges facing society, with the launch of a new Institute for Social Justice (ISJ).
The Institute aims to build on the University’s long and successful record of radical and innovate work, giving a voice and opportunities to groups and individuals who are often stigmatized, marginalised, or under-represented in higher education. The Institute launches at a critical time, as a range of longstanding social injustices and inequalities gain wider attention and as many parts of society look to recover and respond following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Professor Andy Hill, Acting Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research explains:
“Social justice is about looking at where the systems, decisions and sometimes unconscious choices we make in society have a negative impact of particular groups and individuals, then working out what we can do about that to create a fairer world for everyone.
Universities can play an important part in that by asking the right questions, investigating what is happening and taking actions, so that things change for the better. York St John University has always done that, but we recognise how essential it is that we step up now and play an even bigger part.
The Black Lives Matter movement, the inequalities highlighted by the coronavirus and the environmental risks the world faces – all these things relate to questions of social justice. Our new Institute is a statement of intent to see where our expertise and efforts can help make the biggest difference on issues and inequalities that affect people’s lives”.
The Institute is the latest development in an ongoing series of initiatives that see York St John’s staff and students working together and in partnership with other organisations to highlight and address important societal challenges. In recent years, the University’s work has included offering free arts courses to users of mental health services, supporting UK military personnel to transition back into mainstream society, raising awareness of sexual violence and abuse, and exploring how to improve access to education in coastal and rural parts of the country.
Professor Matthew Reason has been appointed as the Institute’s first Director, with responsibility to develop the University’s social justice work and profile in the future. Professor Reason’s vision is for an outward facing and action orientated Institute:
“The traditional concept of a University is of a cloistered place that sees itself as something apart from the wider world. We want to reverse that, turn the University inside out and recognise its responsibility and potential to work for social justice. The model for the Institute for Social Justice is to conduct work with people, with communities and with partners in a manner that has real impact.”
Professor Reason’s own research has a strong element of social engagement, focusing on the role of the arts in promoting agency, education and social change. This background informs his objectives for the ISJ:
“York St John has a lot of experience already of collaborating in the community to understand people’s experiences and working with them to make their lives better.
“The ISJ is tasked with drawing this work together, forging new connections and really underlining that this commitment to social justice runs throughout York St John University, impacting on everything we do from research, to teaching, to our relationship with the city and world around us. The Institute for Social Justice will be central to animating the driving purpose of York St John University, which is to lead on creating a fairer and more inclusive world.”
The Institute has already funded a series of new research projects, with a particularly local focus to reflect the University’s longstanding role in York and the North Yorkshire area. These include looking at how flood risks affect different communities, exploring different types of support available for asylum seekers, and examining issues faced by women in the workplace. Three new PhD opportunities are also being funded, research themes connected to the arts and social justice. In time, the Institute plans to use the growing number of national and international partnerships the University has established to extend the scale, reach and impact of its research agenda.