After being approached last year by the National Social Equity Panel to bring the Social Equity Leadership Conference to the University of San Francisco, I realized that USF was the perfect place to host this conference. This year's event, held June 1-3, brought a unique, spiritual component to the conference, as it was the first time the Social Equity Leadership Conference has been held at a Jesuit institution. The opportunity for the USF School of Management to host was fitting, given, not only the background of USF in supporting social equity and social justice but also the Jesuit history which brought an authentic component to the conference. Although the topics discussed varied widely across law enforcement and race, access to technology for low-income families, sustainability and environmental planning, and LGBT issues, five key points can be taken from the conference and applied to the greater community.
1. The Keynote Address by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom
Over 200 people attended the keynote given by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and, while lunch was offered during the speech, many people came just to hear him speak. His work has spanned social equity issues, including women's rights, fair housing access, same-sex marriage access, and addressing the needs of any marginalized people. Citing The Bible, Newsom shared that the principle of social equity is worth fighting for, as we are all connected as parts of the same "body," and the suffering of one is the suffering of all.
2. The Message of Social Equity
While many people at the conference might have not heard the term social equity, the conference was a way to not only share the message but also to reach individuals who may have never participated before in a social equity conference. Over the course of three days, participants were able to gain an understanding through discussions on housing policies, transgender panels, healthcare, and communities of color. The conference highlighted the fact that social equity involves everyone and that everyone needs to be involved. Individuals, scholars, and nonprofit leaders from across the world participated in the conference, with some traveling from as far as India.
3. The Transgender Panel
While recent conversations and legislative actions regarding gender neutral bathrooms have begun to pique the interest of many different people, the transgender panel took a much more functional approach. The panel discussed appropriate pronouns, terms, and common questions for individuals who are transgender. A mix of people participated in all panels, which allowed the experience to be an epiphany for so many individuals, including many older adults. Led by a USF professor in the School of Nursing, the panel was an interactive way to share information and ask insightful questions. So many individuals left with a greater understanding and awareness.
4. Housing Policy and Discrimination
Key individuals, such as the executive director of Fair Housing of Marin, shared insights into the discrimination that is going on within the housing market. The United States continues to have issues with unintentional and intentional segregation -- primarily those individuals that choose to separate themselves based on social class and economic status. Fair Housing of Marin conducts fair housing tests, where the willingness of individuals to rent or sell a home to someone is evaluated. By assessing the home rental or sales process, issues of social equity are brought to light. Many individuals who attended this panel were surprised to know that research and practice involving fair housing is still taking place, because fair housing and discrimination continues to be a challenge in communities.
5. Healthcare and Communities of Color
A panel was led by the USF nursing school about the effects of toxic environments on communities of color and poor white communities. Every school and college at USF had a faculty member participate in this discussion panel, which demonstrated that social equity involves everyone, not just members of a given field or group, and highlighted the importance of environmental impact on individuals. For example, many people suffer from living near toxic plants and factories, but these types of industrial properties are more likely to be placed near communities of color and poor white communities. This panel truly highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of social equity and the need for public policy to address social equity, especially from leadership within healthcare.
Overall, the Social Equity Leadership Conference highlighted the importance of continuing research into social equity issues and remaining true to the ideals of individuals. While some academics may worry about taking on matters of social equity, it is possible to achieve tenure and promotion at a university while addressing the social equity agenda. As we are all parts of the same human experience, social equity impacts each one of us and is important to address as we work to improve social justice around the world. The Social Equity Leadership Conference highlighted the importance of remaining true to individual values, as we work for the greater good in, both, our academic research and daily life.