Professor urges Luchinsky Lecture audience to 'seek justice by looking inward'

Jeff Rice
January 29, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jeanine Staples is a champion of and advocate for social justice. At the same time, the Penn State associate professor of education sees many of the nation’s social justice movements failing to take hold.

“We are having to repeat our social justice work over and over, as if we never did any,” Staples said. “One of the reasons our movements fail is because we do not have meaningful emotional justice projects. They are absolutely crucial fuel to make more effective and high-impact social justice work.”

Staples explained the nature of emotional justice and how the members of her audience could develop personal liberations, during the latest annual Mark Luchinsky Memorial Lecture at the Palmer Museum of Art’s Lipcon Auditorium on Jan. 27.

An associate professor of literacy and language, African American studies, and women’s, gender and sexuality studies in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Staples researches supremacist patriarchies and the effects of racism, sexism and ableism. She engaged the audience by getting members to share their own thoughts on social justice then outlined how microaggressions, macroaggressions and systemic oppression have collective and adverse effects on people over the course of their lifetimes.

Social justice, Staples explained, means to take seriously the exterior life of every person. Emotional justice means to take seriously the interior life of every person. When people can take an internal look at themselves via personal liberation projects — a “deep excavation of the soul,” as Staples put it — and begin to heal from those aggressions, only then are they equipped to do impactful social justice work.

These personal liberation projects will help both the minority and majority members of society from falling back into the same rote habits that create race and gender injuries, according to Staples.

“If the people who are writing the laws and developing the policy have not interrogated, made sense of, and done deep healing,” she said, “they will create and recreate the exact same systemic abuses that they claim and say they abhor.”

Staples teaches intersectional identity studies, new literacy studies, and urban studies at Penn State. She has also trained more than 4,000 teachers of underrepresented minority students in anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ableist methods of instructions and assessment.

“Dr. Staples gave us so much to think about, from the idea of ‘deep excavation’ to ‘emotional justice,’” said Schreyer Honors College Dean Peggy A. Johnson. “She provided a new way to think about aggressions and the responsibility that each of us have to move toward social justice.”

During the lecture, Staples gave her audience a two-minute window to write down their own personal liberation projects and encouraged attendees to take those plans for self-discovery with them.

“Face your deepest fears about yourself,” she said. “When you do it, you’re more trustworthy.”

The Luchinsky Memorial Lecture Series was endowed by family and friends to honor the memory of Mark Luchinsky through the support of a speaker who exemplifies intellectual honesty, personal integrity, and joy in learning. Luchinsky, a Schreyer Scholar and biochemistry major, graduated first in his class in 1992 from Thomas Jefferson High School and was a member of the Penn State Golden Key Society and the Alpha Epsilon Delta Premedical Honor Society. Known for his intellectual honesty and integrity, Luchinsky enjoyed the study of all subjects and loved the classics, sports, poetry, history and geography.

The 2020 Mark Luchinsky Memorial Lecture was co-sponsored by the Presidential Leadership Academy, the Office of Educational Equity, the Gender Equity Center, Penn State Hillel, and the Schreyer Honors College Student Council.

Last Updated January 30, 2020