WSU English celebrates Diversity and Social Justice Scholarship recipients

WSU English celebrates Diversity and Social Justice Scholarship recipients

WSU English celebrates Diversity and Social Justice Scholarship recipients

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The Department of English Diversity and Social Justice Scholarship was established in the summer of 2020 in order to recognize our students’ outstanding commitment to the pursuit of equity.  In founding this scholarship, Caroline Maun (Chair and Associate Professor) drew inspiration from the work of Nakia Wallace (class of 2020 and co-organizer of Detroit Will Breathe) as well as from the death of George Floyd.  This academic year, three recipients of this scholarship will use the funding to further their education in English and to continue their advocacy for justice and equity in society at large.

For Batoul Bazzi, majoring in English has provided a welcome opportunity to examine the role of social justice in combating discrimination of all kinds.  As Batoul wrote in her scholarship application, “Growing up as an Arab Muslim, I experience racism, discrimination, and Islamophobia.  Because of my hijab, I have learned to get past the ruthless remarks and stares.”  Through her English courses, Batoul has gained confidence as a critical thinker, reader, and writer, and she noted in an interview that the English major allows students “to improve and expand on the writing skills that each one of us naturally possesses as young individuals.”  By analyzing social justice issues in her English courses, Batoul has “realized the power of language and the positive effects behind advocating for those in my community.”  She has already put those realizations into practice by serving as an election volunteer in her community.  Ultimately, Batoul plans to attend law school and become a federal judge, a position that will allow her to redress injustice within the criminal justice and legal system. 

As the founder and executive director of the SASHA Center (Sexual Assault Services for Holistic Healing and Awareness), Kalimah Johnson has a deep passion for issues of diversity and social justice.  In her work at this non-profit agency, Kalimah develops programming to help African American survivors of sexual assault heal themselves, and she believes that social justice is essential to overcoming the divisions within modern society: “I believe wholeheartedly that culture cures and history heals and therefore we must address issues of diversity and social justice.”  Kalimah also has a broader interest in the African American experience itself, and she chose to enroll in the MA program at Wayne State because of her interest in Black writers: “I love the written word, I love studying the words of black folks in the United States and particularly after Reconstruction, and I love writing and talking about black folks who are writing and talking.”  In her scholarship application, Kalimah proudly identifies herself as “a Detroiter,” and her leadership of the SASHA Center has made important contributions to social justice within the city.  At the same time, Kalimah has also developed a national and international profile as a proponent of diversity and equity through her work as a consultant with the National Basketball Association and as a national and international trainer on topics such as racism and relationship safety.

Thomas Goins decided to pursue doctoral study in Rhetoric and Composition at Wayne State after serving as an aide to college students with disabilities, a pivotal experience that foregrounded the importance of diversity and social justice.  As Thomas helped students with vision impairments learn how to write college papers, he had an epiphany: “helping those individuals throughout their writing processes helped dismantle my rigid view of composition.”  Building on this work, and his own personal experiences with diversity, Thomas aims to become a college instructor of composition and to empower his students to claim their voices: “As a queer Black person, diversity and social justice are intrinsic to my experiences in academia and beyond; so, it is crucial for me as an emergent writing instructor to seize and facilitate opportunities for equity to help demarginalize marginalized voices.”  Thomas has already begun this important work with an ongoing project entitled “Queering the Flint Water Crisis,” which seeks to highlight the stories of Flint residents who face discrimination due to gender, sexuality, disability, race, and class.  As Thomas explained in his scholarship application, this project “will foster increased participation in citizenship” through its inclusion of marginalized individuals and its “bottom-up approach to advocacy and activism.”  Thomas’s research thus reveals the way that diversity and social justice initiatives can better the everyday lives of Michigan residents.

All three recipients share a common ethos: the idea that embracing diversity and social justice is not just an ethical imperative, but also a way of improving society.  Batoul, for example, explained that she hopes to study law in order to help create a more just future:  “It is incumbent that our criminal justice and legal system is revised because there are many examples where justice is not served equally.  I want to become part of the change and encourage young adults and older generations to use their voices and help those in need.”  Expressing a similar commitment to helping others overcome barriers, Kalimah observed in an interview that “people who have been held in the margins and oppressed deserve to have a chance to show their talents and skills and abilities to make us all better people, institutions, organizations, and communities. I want to see a world where diverse individuals and groups are honored, respected, trusted, and revered in all situations and circumstances related to our growth as human beings.”  Thomas, meanwhile, is working toward a vision of diversity that is intersectional and multifaceted: “I recognize that the superficial, additive method of diversity—such as increasing the visibility of marginalized individuals in exclusionary, hegemonic spaces—no longer suffices. The true move towards diversity and social justice seems to be diverse coalition that occurs through an agreement to uphold care through mutual aid.”  Taken together, Batoul, Kalimah, and Thomas are themselves such a “diverse coalition”—a group of students committed to improving the future for themselves, their communities, and their country through the pursuit of diversity, equity, and social justice.

The Department of English congratulates Batoul, Kalimah, and Thomas on their many achievements and their outstanding contributions toward ensuring a more just future.  We are proud to support them in their educational endeavors and look forward to all that they will accomplish in their careers.  If you would like to support future recipients of the Department of English Diversity and Social Justice Scholarship by making a donation to this scholarship fund, click here, enter “Other” in the “Choose your designation” box, and type in “Department of English Diversity and Social Justice Scholarship” in the “Other designation” box.