(TOMS RIVER, NJ) -- Last September, Ocean County College launched what was intended to be a one-year series of interactive events, films and lectures dealing with social justice issues. In spite of the campus closure, events continued virtually, and the programming was so popular, the College will continue its Social Justice Series throughout the coming academic year.
Topics will once again include race, hunger, immigration, environmental change, gender and LGBTQ concerns and more. And because the campus has reopened, the in-person, interactive events that were curtailed in 2020-21 will be added to the roster.
The Social Justice Series was first planned prior to the campus shut-down due to COVID-19, and the emphasis at that time was on providing various means for students (and community members) to interact with others — through hands-on events that would provide a lot of interpersonal interaction. OCC’s Foundation, Student Life, the School of Arts and Humanities and the School of Business & Social Sciences, Center for Access and Equity, the Library and the Grunin Center all collaborated to create this series.
“I am pleased with the results of last year’s programming,” says Heidi Sheridan, dean of Arts & Humanities at Ocean County College. “We had more than 500 students attend virtually and I’m excited about the possibilities for this year now that events will be held in-person.”
With increased interest in social justice issues during the past couple of years, Sheridan believes attendance will be even greater. While most events will be held in-person, she said there will be a few that will be offered virtually or in a hybrid fashion. Several of OCC’s classrooms are equipped with the technology to share a presentation in real-time, for example, and to record it for later viewing on the College website.
The events that are currently lined up for the coming year are:
Commemoration of the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2021 September 13 at 2:00pm. This event will honor the victims who lost their lives in the tragic events of that day, and all those who continue to suffer the effects of Taliban oppression in Afghanistan. The event will weave together the consequences of 9/11 and the U.S.-led military intervention in Afghanistan. Speaker: Dr. Walead Mohammed Mosaad, director of Muslim Student Life at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and a scholar of the Islamic tradition. Dr. Mosaad also is a visiting professor at the Bayan Claremont College of Theology. He has earned undergraduate degrees from several universities and his doctoral degree in Arab and Islamic Studies from the University of Exeter in the U.K. Dr. Mosaad has lectured extensively throughout the Muslim world, Europe and the Far East delivering lectures on issues facing the Muslim community.
Film Series — I am Greta September 28 at 11:00am. First released last October, this powerful documentary follows Greta Thunberg, a teenage climate activist from Sweden, on her international crusade to get people to pay attention to scientists about the world’s environmental problems. OCC College Lecturer II Jason Molloy will host the event and lead a post-film discussion.
Hands-on Program for Students — Ending the Silence October — all month. A program offered by NAMI National (National Alliance for Mental Illness) qualifies young adults to participate in the Ending the Silence program. OCC students will be counseled through NAMI about their own mental health concerns and trained to present to 8th-grade students and high schoolers in the Toms River Area.
Speaker — Anna Deveare Smith October 21 at 11:00am. The author and award-winning actress (West Wing, Nurse Jackie, Black-ish), appeared virtually at OCC in November 2020, to excellent reviews. According to her website, Anna Deavere Smith “looks at contemporary issues from multiple viewpoints and combines the journalistic technique of interviewing her subjects with the art of interpreting their words through performance.” Among the topics she addresses in her presentations are the vulnerability of youth, inequality, the criminal justice system and contemporary activism. This event is sponsored by the Blauvelt Speakers’ Series, which is funded in part by the generosity of the late Bradford Thomas & Eleanor G. Blauvelt and The Wintrode Family Foundation.
Presentation — OCC Shakespearean Whistleblowers: Ladies First October 19 at 11:00am. College Lecturer II Ameer Sohrawardy hosts this event, which explores two scenes from Shakespeare’s plays showing female resistance to misogyny and oppression. The ensuing Q&A session will focus on how those two scenes provide lessons for today’s audience.
Speaker — Aaron Potenza November 16 at 11:00am. Aaron Potenza recently served on Governor Phil Murphy’s transition team as a member of the Education, Access and Opportunity Committee, and is the chair of New Jersey’s Transgender Equality Task Force, the first statewide interagency transgender task force in the country. Aaron is working with NJCASA toward an end to sexual violence through programs that are grounded in an anti-oppression framework that centers survivors. His presentation would focus on his work and experiences seeking equality as a transgender gay male. He will give a historical overview of the gay rights movement and then focus specifically on public policy for trans rights in New Jersey. He will leave time for Q&A for students.
Film Series — Break the Chain December 2 at 11:00am. College Lecturer II Jason Molloy will host this screening of the 2017 documentary that provides first-hand accounts of two survivors of child sex and labor trafficking within Michigan communities. The documentary looks at how trafficking often goes unnoticed and how we work to stop such a serious issue that happens closer to home than many people realize. Following the screening, there will be an opportunity for discussion. “It’s important to look at the issues of the day through the lens of the arts,” says Dean Sheridan. “So much of art, music and literature is about what is happening in the here and now, as artists react to what is happening in the world. The way different disciplines in the humanities create art, or even discussion, can help shed different light on social issues.”
The format for the series — monthly programming in various disciplines with each event focusing on an issue of social justice in the world today — came out of planning sessions in which Sheridan asked her team, “What can we do for our students, to not only help raise donations for Fulfill (formerly Ocean/Monmouth Food Bank), but also to share all kinds of information on current issues with our campus community and the community at large?”
Sheridan’s team planned a unique interactive event, Canstruction, for January that was to last throughout the spring 2021 semester and is currently set to begin in January 2022. It will last throughout the spring semester.
Canstruction combines an art and design challenge with the goal of donating canned goods to a local food bank at the end of the semester. The project challenges students to get creative and produce artistic sculptures out of canned goods.
All events are open to the public (registration is not required). Links to each program are posted on OCC’s website.