Students living in residence halls at The University of Arizona will get a more pointed education on social justice issues beginning this year.
Residence Life, the unit on campus responsible for campus housing and residential programming, has hired a social justice education coordinator and has initiated a number of efforts to teach students living in campus housing about diversity and social justice issues.
Mohammed Naser, the new coordinator, said he is helping Residence Life to redefine its focus on social justice education and tailor it to the communities it serves.
“Each building is different because of the size and who lives there,” said Naser, a doctoral degree candidate in the UA’s teaching and teacher education program. “I’m hoping we can factor those differences into the programs.”
Naser has spent much of his time since the beginning of the academic year training hundreds of Residence Life staff members on issues related to diversity and also helped coordinate the UA’s Students of Color Welcome event held earlier in the semester.
“The education of our residents will go beyond providing them with a basic service,” said Naser, who earned a two-year Fulbright Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State in 2004. “We’re talking about the learning process with an emphasis on the basic definition of diversity and social justice.”
One of Naser’s tasks is to form a peer advisory group called Advocates Coming Together, or ACT, that will be responsible for instituting new programs in the residence halls and on campus.
Within the context of what Residence Life is working to do, social justice is defined as “the full participation of all groups in a community that has been shaped to meet their needs,” explained Sharon Overstreet, UA’s Residence Life associate director for
The definition continues: “A socially just community is one that requires participation from all to assure that each member is physically and psychologically safe and secure and has equitable access to resources and opportunities.”
Residence Life will be testing students’ knowledge about diversity and justice-oriented topics and themes before and after the academic year to gauge student learning, Overstreet said.
Just as numerous units on campus organize and coordinate diversity-related programs – such as the Diversity Resource Office, LGBTQ Affairs, Social Justice Programs as well as the four multicultural centers – Overstreet said it is also important that Residence Life improve its programming and education for students in campus housing.
“We don’t want students to miss out on the social justice and diversity message just because they aren’t attending campus events,” she said.
Though Residence Life has for years had a position focused on diversity issues, the position had not been so keenly focused on issues of social justice. Also, unlike the diversity position, Naser’s role will be to focus more exclusively on educating students in residence halls.
“We’re working to expand the offerings across Residence Life,” said Pamela Obando, the UA’s associate director for Residence Life. “We’re really happy to have Mohammed.”
In 2001, Naser began working with the Peace Corps and spent time in Jordan teaching Arabic to American volunteers working in rural communities in Jordan and also teaching gender issues and English to youth. He also organized a summer camp there for seventh-grade students living in refugee camps.
During his time at the UA, Naser has served as a hall director, resident assistant and a graduate assistant for multicultural advocacy and programs in the newly renamed Social Justice Programs division, where he co-taught a social justice-oriented leadership course.
“We all come to our experience in the residence halls with past experiences and identities and ways of looking at the world,” Naser said, adding that he orients his training to “encourage all participants to look back at their place in life and figure out how we can enhance our relationships.”