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GSU plans groundbreaking Oct. 23 for Social Justice Initiative building

Governors State University is inviting the community to the groundbreaking of a new Social Justice Initiative building on Monday, Oct. 23, at 1 p.m.

The construction site is on University Drive across from the Paul Bunyan statue. Guests are encouraged to register on the university’s website.

GSU President Cheryl Green said, “When I assumed the presidency at Governors State in 2020, I had a vision of creating a Social Justice Institute to remove barriers to education by resolving food and housing insecurities, educating voters, creating a legal clinic, addressing root causes of mass incarceration and community violence.”

“Led by Dr. Phyllis West, the overarching goal of the Social Justice Initiative is to train and empower tomorrow’s leaders and we’re doing it,” said Green. “In the last two years, we have taken students to a Beloved Community leadership conference at Auburn University,  and in July, we opened the Self-Help Legal Clinic. The clinic provides pro-bono legal assistance and services to residents and students in the Southland, where resources are lacking. I’m proud of the work we’re doing in social justice and look forward to making a deeper impact.”

The Social Justice Initiative is a collaboration directed by Phyllis West. The advisory council comprises representatives from the university, local non-profits, students and community residents. With the university acting as a hub, they ensure that initiatives align with the needs of the South Suburbs. 

Through a comprehensive strategy involving events, services, research, educational programs and community outreach, the Social Justice Institute works to facilitate positive transformations in the lives of local residents. The new building will serve as the epicenter for administrating these endeavors.

While the new building is under construction, the legal clinic will use offices in the university library that allow for confidential conversations. The clinic has seen the most need from community members seeking help for immigration, expungement, family law and housing issues. 

“Our greatest area of need is expungement, followed by family law. That includes divorce, custody and guardianship,” said West. “The last four months have allowed us to build a foundation, and now we can step back and consider what else the community needs and what we need to make this expand in a way that makes sense.”

The Social Justice Initiative is recruiting translators who can help legal professionals communicate with people who have immigration issues. The initiative is also looking for more pro bono legal help.

West, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, also teaches a class at Stateville Prison.

 “They’re exceptional students,” West said about the inmates. “They are brilliant thinkers. We know what education can do. It’s empowering. We want to be able to provide that support here at Governors State. Anybody can come in and say, ‘Not only am I looking for a second chance, I am working towards it.’ We can mentor them and provide a space where they can build social capital.”

A recent donation drive collected clothes community members can wear to court dates and job interviews. An upcoming social justice fair on Oct. 27 will allow community members to connect with the SJI, get informed about issues, and meet area employers who might look beyond a criminal record. 

To RSVP for the groundbreaking or learn more about the Social Justice Initiative, visit the webpage.

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