SAU Buzz

St. Ambrose hosts social justice conference

by Daniel Rohlf
Posted on Oct 25, 2018

Hundreds of St. Ambrose students, faculty staff, and Quad City members gathered for the Ambrose Women for Social Justice 15th annual conference on Oct. 10.


“This was our 15th year doing this, and it’s been really great just to see how much it has grown over the years,” Strzepek said. “We have had a lot of participation from community members, and sometimes we will have alumni attend. It’s great to see how the tradition has continued and grown since we started it.”


Some of the things that were featured at this year’s conference were workshops, art displays, films, and a New York Times bestselling author.


“Workshops are one of the main things that we have,” Strzepek said. “We have people try to do something interactive that gives the participants to both learn about a new issue and practice a new skill. Some of the workshops included things about art therapy this year because our theme was visual narratives. We also included some film in the conference this year to go with the theme of visual narratives.”


One of the goals of this conference is to find civil ways to discuss things that were talked about.


“One of the goals is to develop gender sensitive issues to human rights problems,” Strzepek said. “We also hope to teach people how to have dialogue about difficult issues about the topics we addressed, like gender based violence, immigration, and the prison system. For this conference focusing on story and narrative, we were really hoping that providing some first person perspectives of people that have been through these issues would be a good entry point for discussion.”


One such person was keynote speaker and best-selling author and poet, Elizabeth Acevedo. Her book “The Poet X”won the Globe-Horn Award for best fiction work of 2018.


During her keynote address she recounted some of her experiences as an Afro-Dominicana woman. She supplemented her personal narrative with readings of poems and sections from her novel “The Poet X.”


One of the most memorable examples she provided was the backstory of a poem she wrote while she was completing her master’s degree. Her class was instructed to write an ode to an animal.

She had always heard the phrase “write what you know,” so as a person who grew up in New York City, she chose to write an ode to a rat.


She recalled that her professor criticized her choice in animal, saying that a rat wasn’t noble enough to have an ode written for it. For Acevedo, this was a moment that further solidified her passion for writing-- “who is to say what is a noble enough topic to write about?” she asked. This reminded her of whose story gets told and whose story gets ignored.

After finishing her novel, Acevedo dedicated it to “my former students at Black Lodge Middle School 2010-2012, and all the little sisters yearning to see themselves.”


She hopes that in the future, young students like hers can see characters with similar life experiences depicted in the books they read, which is what “The Poet X” aims to do.


“I think unfortunately there is a lack of willingness to dialogue about a lot of issues,” Strzepek said. “It is a very difficult time for social justice advocates; On the other hand, it shows we need conferences like this now more than ever.”