Grinnell’s social justice emphasis has grown stronger in recent months. The college awarded its first three awards last fall to young people working for social change, with $50,000 going to each winner and another $50,000 to a charity of their choice. Grinnell received 1,200 applications.
The winners –a rabbi connecting Palestinians with American Jews, an activist in Ghana and a pair of young men who helped install a social justice component in Uganda’s national curriculum – spent a week on campus meeting with students and speaking in classes with social justice themes. Two have agreed to come back to teach short courses at Grinnell and two have taken on Grinnell interns at their organizations. Back in Iowa, students are helping with a growing prison education program and managing a local microlending program.
That renewed interest in social justice both at Grinnell and elsewhere, Kington said, might be partially due to the economic downturn. He sees students evaluating whether fortune or good works are more important and looking for concrete ways to improve the world.
“Students are having serious discussions about what they want out of life,” he said. “They may very well die with fewer toys and richer lives and that would be O.K.”