Social justice is an essential part of Terrace’s identity. We hear from three alumni who work in social justice. Be on the lookout for fall’s featured theme, which is food and drink.
Mike Southwell ’60
didn’t have the slightest idea what I wanted to do when I went to Princeton, and indeed even going to Princeton was outside my consciousness as a high school student. I was the first in my family to go to college. I majored in music not for any career focus, but because that was what I liked. As I went through, I could see what seemed to be the very attractive profession of professor, but I couldn’t play the piano. English was my next love.
I went to Wisconsin for graduate school. I was into old stuff; I minored in Classics and worked in the Renaissance. But while I was there, the Vietnam War began, and I was immediately radicalized. I withheld taxes and protested in every way I could.
I got a job teaching in the City University of New York, and shortly after I began, CUNY went to open admissions, which meant that we got lots of students who did not have any kind of so-called normal college preparatory background, and in New York the majority of them were first generation and often non-English speaking. The black students spoke a perfectly ordinary language which, unfortunately for them, was close to but not exactly standard English, and so their language was typically but erroneously called “bad English” rather than the more accurate “non-standard dialect of English.” I got interested in these students and had a complete career change, becoming a specialist in teaching Freshman Composition. This turned out to be a very good career move for me, because CUNY was at the forefront of working with these students.
When I switched from the Renaissance to Freshman Composition, I realized that this change was permitting me to actually change people’s lives, rather than simply informing them about some (in fact) esoteric stuff of little interest to the majority of people. You can probably imagine how rewarding this was to me (and, so they said, to many of my students as well). I will never forget the student who was a mailman, and said that he didn’t want to carry mail for the rest of his life, so he was getting a college education so that he could move into management.
In 2002, I retired and began to serve on the board of Terrace Club. A few years ago, some Princeton alumni started a group called Princeton Progressives, accurately described by its name. I am now on the board of that group, working to help advance progressive causes at the University, as well as continuing to be active in other social justice areas, badly needed these days.
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Jenny Marlowe ’04
am an actor, playwright, educator, and community activist. I advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the arts with a particular focus on issues of visibility and representation for Indigenous people in media and popular culture.
Performing and protesting are two things I’ve always done very well. In a way, every act of art is an act of defiance. But art is also a discipline; and for a long time, I treated craft and practice as discrete elements of my work. Eventually, there came a point when I found I could no longer disentangle the two—every choice I made relating to my work was in service of a certain set of issues. So I began making those issues an intentional focus of what I do.
Because of the very limited public narrative surrounding Indigenous people, folks tend to have a very narrow and particular view of you when you enter a space as a Native person. That view is not only constrained by stereotype, but confined to the past. I can’t count the number of times someone has told me that they won’t produce Native content because “there aren’t any Native actors out there,” or that they won’t tell Native stories because “there aren’t any ‘real’ Indians left.” What do you do when someone looks you in the eye and tells you that you don’t exist? The only sustainable response is to continue making yourself, and your community, as visible as possible until no one can ignore you anymore.
I work with a cultural consulting company called Indigenous Direction. ID helps folks all over the country develop Indigenous cultural protocols and facilitates connections with Native communities. One thing we’re working on at the moment is building a more robust and connected national network for Native theater practitioners. I’m also on the Leadership Council of Emerging Arts Leaders/Los Angeles. A couple of my recent projects with them have been a panel discussion on protest art and a new play festival that included a piece by fellow Terran Ronit Rubinstein ’05. This year, I’m also an Arts for LA delegate, joining a group of other local artist-activists to lobby our city council members on arts-related policy.
For activism to have an impact, you have to find a way to weave it into the fabric of what you do every day. It’s not enough to go to marches on the weekend and share all the right articles on Facebook; you have to consider how the little choices you make—which conversations you start and which ones you consciously or unconsciously avoid—affect the social ecology. You can be an activist in any job, in any field, by cultivating an awareness that you’re part of a system, and embracing the discomfort that comes with striving to make that system more equitable. Social change is never easy. It’s painful and it’s messy. If you want to make a difference, you have to be willing to make a mess.
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Justin Gerald ’07
a student at Princeton, Justin Gerald wasn’t sure what kind of career he wanted to pursue. When his fellow seniors flocked to information sessions with the major consulting groups, he quickly realized that path wasn’t for him. After graduation he lived for two years in Korea, teaching English as a foreign language to high school students. When he returned to his native New York City, Justin continued to teach English, but he made the jump to working with adults.
“No one cares about adult learners,” says Justin. He’s working to change that. Currently, he’s employed by the City University of New York to develop curricula and train employees in New York City’s Office of Child Support Enforcement. He sees his purpose as twofold: to help city employees be successful on the job, and in turn, to improve the processes of the city’s child support system.
“It’s important for me to derive meaning from my job—and I realize it’s a privilege to be able to say that,” Justin says. In the fall, he heads back to the classroom himself to began an EdD in instructional leadership at CUNY’s Hunter College.