Fourth annual Teach-In focuses on social justice issues

GVL / Emily Frye
Student presenters during the teach-in on Thursday April 2, 2015.

GVL / Emily Frye Student presenters during the teach-in on Thursday April 2, 2015.

Meghan McBrady

After serving eight years as president of the United States, Barack Obama bid farewell to the nation Tuesday, Jan. 10. During his address, Obama said Americans need to renew their efforts to create progressive change within the country.

“If our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us needs to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said, ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view,’” Obama said.

Emulating the president’s message of being part of a diverse nation, the fourth annual Teach-In at Grand Valley State University, titled “Power, Privilege and Difficult Dialogues,” will be conducted at the Allendale and Pew campuses Thursday, Jan. 19.

Sponsored by the university academic senate and the student senate, the Teach-In’s 60 sessions will focus on social justice and inequality issues. Sessions will be held from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Kirkhof Center and the DeVos Center.

Ella Fritzemeier, GVSU’s student senate president, said while the Teach-In is usually conducted toward the end of the school year, it was moved to GVSU’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week due to the ideals of both events fitting together.

“The whole purpose of a Teach-In is for mutual education among different groups of people to address topics such as social justice and liberation, which is exactly what Martin Luther King Jr. fought for,” Fritzemeier said.

Furthermore, Fritzemeier said, she believed the Teach-In would have a different feel this year with the sessions being the day before the presidential inauguration. She said many of the sessions would revolve around contentious issues, which would lead to discussion and understanding among the GVSU community.

“I hope the results of the Teach-In next week will be a group of people with a newfound understanding of a topic that they did not previously know,” she said. “I am also hoping that it will provide students, faculty and staff new perspectives on some of these contentious issues and provide a foundation for moving forward.”

Karen Gipson, a GVSU physics professor and the chair of the university academic senate, also said the Teach-In would integrate well with the other MLK Jr. Commemoration Week events this year, given its focus on social justice.

Highlighting the importance of having an informed community, Gipson said each 75-minute session of the event will tie into King by covering ethnic, social class and disability issues, while also addressing other inequities.

“The schedule has sessions that cover all sorts of things, like student debt,” she said. “Student debt is not generally considered a social justice issue, but it is a huge problem if (the student) doesn’t come from a background where they can afford it and can be a huge problem for all students.”

Some of the topic sessions at the Teach-In include trans-inclusiveness at GVSU, rape culture, physical ability privilege at GVSU, fashion trends and cultural appearance, studying abroad for first generation college students, discrimination within the U.S. justice system and an assortment of other topics.

As a dialogue is established within the GVSU community about some of the challenges within the country, Gipson hopes students begin to question and challenge the various social issues within their circles.

“Teach (students) how to learn about those issues and be inspired to take action, maybe not now, but eventually sometime in your life,” Gipson said.

For a schedule and descriptions of the Teach-In sessions at the Allendale and Pew campuses, visit