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Rachel Wagner “Toward a Bountiful Theory of Liberation and Healing”



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by dr. Saby Labor in Audio, Blog, Resources
July 30, 2018 0 comments

In episode 22, Rachel Wagner shares her salient identities and expands on the work she is engaging in today as an Assistant Professor at Clemson University. She uplifts the theory of liberatory consciousness and provides us a powerful reading list of resources that inform her work as a social justice educator. Rachel shares a lesson learned and an important piece of guidance for other professionals doing the work today.


About Rachel:

Rachel Wagner is an assistant professor in HESA at Clemson University. She completed her doctorate in social justice education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Prior to her faculty appointment at Clemson she served for 16 years in progressively responsible positions in housing and residence life.

Show Highlights:

  • Tells us more about herself 03:36
  • Salient identities 06:20
  • Rachel shares a current study she is working on pertaining to fat studies and how fat students navigating college campuses 06:56
  • Rachel highlights some of the other work that she is doing today as a social justice educator 08:30
  • Get excited about an upcoming resource from Rachel and others that provides strategies for residential life practices from a social justice lens 12:44
  • Rachel talks about a bountiful theory of liberation in student affairs 13:44
  • What was it like when you first read works about Indigenous folx that were written by Indigenous folx? 15:13
  • How did Rachel arrive to the work she’s doing today? 17:22
  • Where does Rachel find community? 23:50
  • She shares resources that inform her approach to social justice work 30:04
  • What lessons has Rachel learned in her career and what guidance would she provide to other social justice educators? 31:40

Notable Quotes:

  • “I fancy myself a social justice educator; I’m pro-social justice. I want people to know that’s a scholarly interest, but it’s also a political orientation and is particularly important in student affairs, because we use social justice very casually perhaps without the full thrust and robustness of what it entails.” 04:25
  • Rachel shares the the first of two prongs of her work as a social justice educator, through the lens of distributive justice:
    “I think about social justice in two really key ways – I think about distributive justice, John Rawls’ notion of, “Does everyone have what they need materially, psychologically, in terms of physical safety to live a life of flourishing and thriving?” and the implications that has on the imperiled economic system that we’re a part of. Neoliberal capitalism is not a system that supports people’s thriving, not all people’s thriving. So, social justice is a call to revolution, to resistance, and reformulation of the systems that we’re currently living in.” 08:38
  • Then, she expands on the second prong of her work as a social justice educator, through the lens of a politics of recognition and representation:
    “To what extent are we hearing the voices of not just the ‘usual suspects’, but we’re turning our attention in ways that are reflective of critical theory and critical race theory, directing our attention to marginalized spaces and minoritized folx and ensuring that those voices are amplified, that those voices are moved into space that we’re looking to for leadership and direction as we try to rebuild a world that’s more just, that we’re working through, and alongside, and with .” 09:56“A politics of recognition means not just who’s involved in conversations and action within our institutions and outside our institutions, but also what’s being celebrated in terms of  having value and knowledge production. I talk to students about how my mother’s family is Native American and I did not read anything about Native folx that was written by Native folx until I got to college, and that was only because I took a particular course and even then the instructor was a white instructor. It wasn’t until after my master’s degree that I read work by Indigenous folk, taught by Indigenous folk and that is a politics that to me aligns itself with a politics of recognition…” 10:43What is available to us within our environments and our social justice work within our institutions, within our communities that reflect who are and how we came to be in this historicized space. Those are the things I’m thinking about when I say the ‘robustness of social justice’. That’s more than just, ‘I’m down for the cause”, that’s a way of comprehensively and dramatically altering our points of entry, our approaches, our paradigms, our ways of thinking about what’s possible within higher education and within our respective institutions.” 11:45
  • Moving from theorizing oppression to a bountiful theory of liberation:
    “In my experience within higher education and student affairs in particular is that we do a pretty good job of theorizing oppression, which is necessary for us to have a kind of consciousness that allows us to take socially just action, but we don’t always have a bountiful theory of liberation, of what’s the kind of world that we want to build and work towards.” 13:38
    “When I think about social justice, I think about how is that through my workshopping, through my writing, through my teaching (I teach a Social Justice and Inclusion class at Clemson in the master’s cohort), in the classroom, in my scholarship, how am I holding visions of liberation as present as my theorizing on oppression…and what can that do for how we have energy and motivation and sustainability within the fight for justice that I think we’re in as a larger society.” 14:03
  • “I came to social justice work from a place of pain and hopefully a place of healing and I also found community there. I found people that were brilliant beyond my wildest imagination and were doing work that was enlivening and I could really connect and resonate to.” 22:22
  • Inspirational quote from Arundhati Roy:
    The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.” 39:54

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