AWSJ Conference


On Tuesday, Sept. 27, Ambrose Women for Social Justice will hold their 13th annual Social and Economic Justice Conference in the Rogalski Center Ballroom. As part of St. Ambrose University's year-long Shakespeare Project Series, this year's conference will explore the uses of drama and the works of Shakespeare to teach about social justice in schools and community programs through "Shakespeare & Justice."

"Theatre and arts programs give students the chance to put themselves in someone else's shoes through activities such as role-playing and acting," said Katy Strzepek, PhD, director of Women and Gender Studies at St. Ambrose. "These activities help students think critically about multiple perspectives and allow them to develop solutions for complex problems."

Not only can drama and art therapy be used to help people through emotions they may not yet be able to express in words, but they can relate through drawing, acting out the role of someone else, or other methods.

Because of this, the "Shakespeare & Justice" theme was created.

The AWSJ conference includes workshops and will feature Curt Tofteland, founder of the acclaimed Shakespeare Behind Bars project, as the keynote speaker.

Shakespeare Behind Bars is a program made to offer theatrical encounters with personal and social issues to incarcerated and post-incarcerated adults and juveniles. This then allows them to develop life skills that ensure their successful reintegration into society.

"Curt Tofteland is a great fit for our conference because he uses Shakespeare to help people in prisons to develop positive social skills, which help them better integrate into society when they are released," Strzepek said. "Drama can be a powerful way to teach people how to work together and how to communicate their emotions in positive ways."

While this year's conference relates to the university-wide project series, it also fits in well with last year's theme of justice. Last year's speaker, Bryan Stevenson, asked the attendees to consider the concept of mercy. Tofteland's work also engages that same theme.

"Tofteland says that the people who most need mercy are the ones society may think least deserve it," Strzepek said. "This concept connects well to our identity as a Catholic school, because thinking about justice and many of the themes in Shakespeare's plays requires us to think about mercy and forgiveness. These are often challenging conversations that allow us to draw from our liberal arts tradition that encourage us to think about multiple perspectives when trying to develop solutions for social problems."

In order to dig deeper into challenging conversations, the AWSJ conference also includes roundtable discussions. These smaller, more personal conversation groups allow participants the chance to discuss specific social justice issues with experts in the field. Along with this, attendees have an opportunity to ask more in-depth questions as well as network with other people who share similar goals.

As a whole, this year's conference theme blends well with not only the university's year-long project series, but with the Ambrose Women for Social Justice's teaching as well.

"We are committed to teaching our students to enact justice and it is important that first we teach them to understand what some of the key issues are, and then we better able to develop justice-based solutions," Strzepek said. "We hope the participants will meet new people and that our students and other participants will be encouraged to follow through with activism."

The Ambrose Women for Social Justice Conference is free and open to the public. The conference is sponsored by Ambrose Women for Social Justice, the Women and Gender Studies Program and Junior League of the Quad Cities.

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