20 years, 200 students and a world of change

Social Justice program recognized alumni in 20th anniversary celebration


Sabrina Merritt

Alumni Julie Savane, Jason Schellack, Peter Elwell, Matrika Bailey, Natalie Self and Junauda Petrus led a discussion on the impact of social justice work.

Lydia Hansen, Senior Reporter

Hamline’s Social Justice department is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and marked the milestone by inviting alumni back to campus on March 7 to speak about the opportunities the social justice program created for them in their careers since graduation.

Natalie Self graduated from the program in 2009. She currently works at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Missouri, where she helps provide grant support for inclusive entrepreneurship efforts.

“The thing that is unique about the [Social Justice] program and helped me the most is the interdisciplinary aspect of it,” Self said.

Self said the analytical framework she learned in the Social Justice program equipped her for her current job where she works in connection with subjects she knows nothing about—bioscience for example.

Matrika Bailey-Turner, a ‘08 graduate, agreed that the interdisciplinary framework the program gave her has been invaluable.

“I work to connect people who you would not think would work together,” Bailey-Turner said. “That I credit to being able to see the unity in diversity in the Social Justice program.”

Bailey-Turner most recently worked in civic engagement for the Case Foundation in Washington, D.C. She said social justice was never something she imagined herself studying until her sophomore year at Hamline.

“All the activities that were attractive to me that were keeping me up at night kept pushing me in that direction and reminding me that this was really a passion of mine,” Bailey-Turner said.

The emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach to complex social issues has been one of the central principles of the program right from its founding in 1999 when it was started as a collaboration between faculty from the College of Liberal Arts, the Hamline Law School and the education and business schools.

“It’s really a success story of getting something done with a lot of buy-in from folks from across the university,” said Valerie Chepp, assistant professor of sociology and director of the Social Justice program since 2015.

Faculty across disciplines continue to teach within the program.

Although offering degrees in social justice is becoming more common, Chepp pointed out that “the fact that we’ve had a program for 20 years is really noteworthy.”

Senior Conner Suddick, a Legal Studies and Social Justice double major, emphasized the combination of analytical skills and real life application in social justice coursework that makes the program highly adaptable to students’ interests.

“It takes the elements of a liberal arts education by learning from a lot of different disciplines,” Suddick said. “No two social justice students have the exact same coursework and exact same path, and it allows us to recognize the vitality of interdisciplinary learning in the context of social issues.”

Since 1999, the Social Justice program has graduated over 200 students. Many of these students received over $108,000 in internship stipend support and $40,000 in scholarships funded through sponsorship by Bill and Kay Erickson, community members who began supporting the program in 2002.

More than financial support or graduated classes, however, the Social Justice program measures its success in the successes of its alumni.

“We can’t take credit for their inspiring achievements,” said Earl Schwartz, a religion professor and the original director of the social justice program. “But we can take such great pride in all that they have done and are doing.”