Social Justice Institutes Focus on Gun Violence Prevention

On January 17, 2017, partners from Pittsburgh’s government, non-profit, and foundation communities joined together to officially launch Carlow’s new Social Justice Institutes (SJI).

The SJI comprises the Women of Spirit® Institute, the Grace Ann Geibel Institute, the Center for Youth Media Advocacy, and the Center for Community Engaged Learning. 

Attendees at the January launch event were also introduced to the Institutes’ inaugural “Educating for Justice” issue: gun violence prevention.

“Gun violence is a social justice issue as it disproportionately affects young people, lower- income people, women in negative domestic situations, and communities of color,” said Jessica Ruffin, director of the Social Justice Institutes at Carlow.

In 2016, the American Medical Association declared gun violence a public health crisis. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “public health refers to all organized measures (whether public or private) to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life among the population as a whole.

“Using the WHO’s parameters for the definition of public health,” said Ruffin, “we, along with many of our community partners, believe gun violence meets that criteria.”

The Social Justice Institutes will take a multi-year, interdisciplinary approach to the issue, allowing for curricular and co-curricular programming as well as community outreach and education. Gun violence prevention will remain the Institutes’ focus through 2020.

“Suicides and homicides, and their impact on families, employers, and communities, are two leading public health consequences of gun violence about which the Institutes can bring research and scholarship,” said Ruffin. “Our goal is to reduce the number of deaths and injuries due to guns.”

Going forward, each project that the SJI will engage in will provide opportunities for input and leadership from community members, providing resources that will empower individuals to advocate for systemic change.

At the launch, Carlow University President Suzanne K. Mellon, PhD, announced that the university will provide a scholarship for students who are victims of gun violence or the family members of those who have been victimized.

The Anne DeNardo McGowan, RN, JD ’60 Educating for Justice Endowed Scholarship will support need-based students who are victims of societal issues or whose family members have
been victimized.

Two other funds, the Class of 1966 Legacy Endowment and the Mary Elizabeth Canterna '67 Endowment (see related story page 28) will also support the Social Justice Institutes.

“Carlow University alumni are some of the most dedicated and caring people in the world,” said Mellon. “These gifts clearly demonstrate that compassion.”

Mellon went on to describe the Institutes as “an incubator for faculty research and community engagement, building upon the values of the Sisters of Mercy and our role as a Catholic university.”

The January 17 event featured photography by David Holzemer, Carlow University senior photographer, which depicted members of the university community who have been impacted by gun violence. Two students, Stephanie Stefano and Cheyenne Holyfield, were the subject of a moving television commercial, previewed at the launch. Their message? "Stop the violence."

Watch Stephanie Stefano and Cheyenne Holyfield in Carlow's powerful video, TOO MANY.

By Drew Wilson