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Ideas, Justice and Change

RWU to kick off first-ever Social Justice Week, a weeklong series of events to inspire social activism

BRISTOL, R.I. -- Whether it’s engaging in a worldwide virtual discussion on the future of densely populated cities, or learning to inspire involvement from RWU alumna Molly Katchpole ’11 – who successfully petitioned Bank of America to drop a debit card transaction fee that hit low-income people hardest – a variety of events to inspire your inner activist will take place on campus during Social Justice Week, October 22 to 26.

After recognizing a need on campus to inspire more diversity, tolerance and cultural and social sensitivity, faculty members in the History and American Studies Department developed this inaugural weeklong series of events – co-sponsored by several departments and on-campus student groups – to encourage students to engage in social justice issues in ways that are meaningful to them.

“Our goal is to enhance the awareness of people who are coming into contact with the programs of the need for social justice, and, therefore, the ways in which social justice is lacking in our society,” says Jeffrey Meriwether, associate professor of history and department chair. “We’re hoping that students will ultimately be able to go out and involve themselves in different programs that interest them.”

Each day will feature a signature event, each providing students the opportunity to engage in activism. On Friday, October 26, recent graduate Molly Katchpole ’11 will deliver a keynote speech titled, “Activating the Activist Within.” In 2011, shortly after graduation, Katchpole created an online petition opposing Bank of America’s $5 debit card fee and gathered over 300,000 signatures in under a month, causing Bank of America to drop its fee. She then protested the Verizon Wireless online billing fee, getting the company to back down within 24 hours of creating another online petition. Thanks to her efforts, Katchpole was recognized by TIME magazine in the annual “Person of the Year” issue.

According to event organizers, the goal of Social Justice Week is to demonstrate to students how social activism comes from within, and that small actions can have tremendous impact.

“As a University dedicated to bridging the world, we want students to recognize that the world is bigger than them and that they need to be aware and engage in matters of social justice,” says Assistant Professor of History Autumn Quezada-Grant.

See below for a full schedule of events:  

On Cities Virtual Worldwide Event
Monday, October 22
Mary Tefft White Cultural Center, University Library
9:00 to 11:30 a.m.; 3:00 to 5:30 p.m.

Join people across the globe for the virtual multicast premiere of “On Cities,” a non-narrated film about the future of life in densely populated cities. The RWU audience will have the opportunity to watch the film in segments, pausing to have conversations about the film via Skype and Twitter with other audiences around the world. The discussion will focus on the emerging challenges of population density in megacities, and possible solutions to this issue.

Participating audiences will feature a range of well-known individuals, including Rhode Island resident and founder of TEDTalks Richard Wurman; Andres Duany, father of the new Urbanism movement in architecture; Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, dean of the University of Miami’s School of Architecture; Steven Cohen, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute; and other international urban studies experts.

“The groundbreaking aspect of this for RWU is that we are, with this particular multicast event, becoming part of a new way to hold a conversation through real live-streaming media and social media in a way that integrates us to part of the larger global conversation,” says event organizer Paola Prado, assistant professor of journalism.

“Favelas at the Vanguard: Rethinking our Assumptions in Sustainable Development”
Tuesday, October 23
Global Heritage Hall G01
5:30 p.m.

Theresa Williamson, executive director of Catalytic Communities – a nonprofit organization that seeks to remove the stigma of Rio de Janeiro’s favela communities and address issues of social justice and sustainable living in the shanty towns – will share insights from her work as a social activist for marginalized communities. Williamson will discuss her work training community leaders and youth in communications and strategies, and leading educational visits to the favelas.

Click here to learn more about the Catalytic Communities organization.

Climbing PoeTree Workshop and Performance
Wednesday, October 24
Intercultural Center
3:00 p.m. (Workshop)
Global Heritage Hall Atrium
7:00 p.m. (Performance)

Engage in a social-justice learning experience led by Climbing PoeTree, a pair of spoken-word artists who seek to challenge social injustices and expose bitter truths through spoken-word musical performances. Climbing PoeTree will lead a workshop for students in which they will discuss inspiring change and awareness through art, and ask students to contribute to a tapestry artwork the group has brought around the world. Later that evening, Climbing PoeTree will perform selections from their award-winning tour, “Hurricane Season: the hidden messages in water.”

Read the full event description here, including a link to video of Climbing PoeTree performing “Hurricane Season.”

Howard Zinn: You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train (film screening)
Thursday, October 25
Global Heritage Hall G01
6:00 p.m.

Learn from the teachings of lifelong activist Howard the 2004 documentary about his life as a renowned social activist. Most famous for his influential book, “A People’s History of the United States,” Zinn espouses in the film his lifelong contention that oppression occurs whether individuals choose to acknowledge it or not. The film aims to condemn passivity toward social injustices and demonstrate that small actions can effect historic change.

“I hope that Zinn will be able to help students recognize not only the importance of social justice, but the smaller ways that it can be accomplished,” Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura D’Amore says.

“Activating the Activist Within” with Guest Speaker Molly Katchpole ’11
Friday, October 26
Global Heritage Hall Atrium
4:00 p.m.

Hear how one individual’s two cents saved the American public a pretty penny. Fed up with what she perceived as another blow to the American consumer, art and architectural history graduate Molly Katchpole posted a petition on, vociferously opposing Bank of America’s plan to initiate a $5 monthly debit card fee to access her own money. Katchpole’s petition garnered more than 300,000 signatures and caused Bank of America to drop the fee, She followed up with a petition against an online billing fee proposal from Verizon Wireless.

Katchpole became an overnight media sensation, with her efforts publicized by the Associated Press and through television appearances on most major networks. She appeared in TIME magazine’s annual “Person of the Year” issue and was nominated to the publication’s list of the 100 most influential people of 2011. Katchpole parlayed her success into a career in social activism; she currently works for Rebuild the Dream

Katchpole’s presentation will aim to disprove the notion that social change can only be created with large-scale funding, resources and time. She will be joined by other activists working for social justice who will share their experiences in such activities as campus-organizing and women’s issues.

The Office of Career Services will be in attendance at this event, offering information to students about social justice opportunities in internships and in careers.


Social Justice Week is co-sponsored by the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, the Office of Spiritual Life, the Women’s Center, SAFE, and Sustained Dialogue. The Women’s Center, SAFE, and Sustained Dialogue will each hold an event throughout the week that connects students with the concept of social justice.