Last year was a landmark time for bringing social justice and the need for reform to the forefront of society.

Virginia Tech is delving into this essential topic through a virtual HokieTalks panel discussion on March 24 at 7 p.m. In “Exploring Contemporary Social Justice Issues,” faculty members from three colleges will discuss how their research and advocacy intersect with social justice issues. 

Laura Belmonte, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, will moderate the hourlong conversation among panelists from her college, the Pamplin College of Business, and the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

The panelists include Brandy S. Faulkner, the Gloria D. Smith Professor of Black Studies and a collegiate assistant professor in political science; Broderick Turner, an assistant professor in marketing; and C. L. Bohannon, an associate professor and associate director of the School of Architecture + Design.

Faulkner will discuss race and public policy with a focus on how power affects social justice advocacy groups and outcomes. Her research looks at communities’ self-efficacy, which is the belief in one’s own abilities to facilitate and control a course of action to deal with most situations.

“Understanding power is essential to political work,” she said. “If we misunderstand power dynamics, then we can’t make more strategic decisions, and we may miss opportunities to win the changes we seek. In fact, one of the key principles in social justice work is to alter power relationships so communities are in control of the major decisions that affect lives. In other words, we are not just trying to achieve all policy objectives; we are fundamentally trying to change how people relate to each other.”

Turner’s emphasis is on how race affects brand perception. In his talk, he will share research from his Tackling Race and Prejudice Laboratory that awareness of one’s own racial identity can affect how one views products with social justice branding. His research asks whether white privilege awareness equals more empathy for those fighting inequities and racism.

“A bunch of consumer-facing brands, such as Sprite, Nike, the NBA, Reebok, Starbucks, and Uber, released products and messaging that indicated support for the social justice movements,” he said. “Our current research focuses on this brand strategy, which we term social justice branding. This work considers how consumers that are in the structurally dominant racial group — that is, white people — may respond to these product offerings when their racial identity is made salient. What happens when social justice branding meets racial identity?”

Landscape and identity are the focus of Bohannon’s presentation. His research explores how environmental design impacts community history and self-image, and how these in turn affect social justice in marginalized areas. He will touch on urban and local areas before giving an in-depth look at Wrightsville, a historically Black town in the western part of Virginia that was affected by the construction of Interstate 64. Only a dozen families remain in the once-thriving area.

“I run a community engagement lab in the landscape architecture program at Virginia Tech,” Bohannon said. “This particular work with narratives, collaborating with community members and then students and other faculty, it’s about real people, real problems, and real projects. We discuss what happened to communities, figure out how we use the stories to disrupt oppression, and use design as a tool for positive change, physically and socially. And then we look at how to involve people who are affected by design into those processes to make them more inclusive.”

Headshots of the moderator and panelists.
Laura Belmonte, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (far left) will moderate the virtual event; panelists will include C.L. Bohannon on environmental design, Brandy Faulkner on community advocacy, and Broderick Turner on market research.

Belmonte, who has made diversity, equity, and inclusion a top priority for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, applauds faculty members’ scholarly pursuits of social justice.

“College communities are spaces where people of every walk of life come together to learn with and from each other. Faculty members at Virginia Tech are therefore in a position to be thought leaders and change makers,” said Belmonte. “By sharing their work in social justice, they can inspire others to become voices for diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is both a great responsibility and a great honor.”

To participate in the HokieTalks event, register in advance here. For more information, contact Debbie Day at hokie@vt.edu.

Written by Leslie King