Senior Cameron Steitz is the Program Director for the Social Justice Incubator (SJI), a space operating through the Pro Humanitate Institute in which students engage and organize around issues of social justice.
He is also a leader of the student interest group UndocuDeacs, which was developed to organize advocacy programs and activist initiatives shortly before Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was rescinded.
Why are you passionate about social justice activism?
For me, this is something that I have always tried to practice even if I didn’t know to call it social justice. I am motivated by a desire to empathetically understand the experiences of the people that I love and applying what I have learned in order to engage with the communities that I am a part of.
For me, it is impossible not to notice this. I want to get involved to make a difference.
How do you describe the campus political climate regarding immigration and social justice issues?
I’m not going to pretend that the silence and sense of apathy on this campus isn’t overwhelming to me.
I even look back at my own experience and have regrets about how long it took me to get involved.
I’m also not going to erase the incredible things that students are accomplishing on this campus.
Organizations like Student Association for the Advancement of Refugees (SAFAR), Students for Education Reform (SFER) and Wake Alternative Break (WAB) are critically engaging with social justice work.
Individuals have organized trips to take students to the March for Black Women.
Students and staff members are coordinating trainings to ensure that the university is more adequately equipped with the skills and information necessary to create safe spaces for members of our community.
Social justice is taking place on this campus, but I challenge Wake Forest — as individuals and as a university — to continually question whether or not we truly embody the ideals of “Pro Humanitate” that we love to claim.
Why did you choose to take a leadership role with the SJI?
I think SJI has amazing potential for this campus. Sometimes students on this campus don’t realize how disproportionally lounge spaces are distributed across student organizations. Having access to a physical space to gather with a community where you feel safe and valued is so important.
For me, SJI is just this: a community of people who are passionate about advancing justice in any area.
Tell me about UndocuDeacs. How did it start and what is its mission?
During the most recent presidential election cycle, the silence at Wake Forest surrounding immigration reform and the undocumented community became unbearable.
While efforts had been made by other groups and organizations to advocate for DACAmented students and the undocumented community as a whole, a space for people who are most impacted by these policies to come together and support one another was essential.
With the reinvigoration of SJI last fall, it became clear that this space would provide support for an organization like UndocuDeacs, which works to advance justice for immigrant communities and their families.
What is the best experience you have had at Wake Forest connected to social justice?
It is really hard for me to narrow it down to just one experience. The Summer Nonprofit Immersion Program was a great opportunity for me to spend the summer in Winston-Salem, learn about nonprofit organizations and become engaged with community-based organizing and development in the larger Forsyth County community.
I also loved attending and being a moderator with the BRANCHES Social Justice Retreat, where I was able to learn about different identities and about myself in a safe environment surrounded by incredible people.
In your opinion, what should the Wake Forest administration and student body be doing differently?
Challenge narratives and get involved. If I have learned anything from working with UndocuDeacs, it is that you can’t claim to support DACAmented students or DREAMers if you don’t also support their families.
Continually consider how actions of the U.S. result in migration yet serve to exclude and dehumanize migrants.
Democratic leadership in Congress recently struck a deal to reopen the government without a vote on DACA, relying on Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s word that he would hold a vote in the coming weeks. What did you think of this deal and what could it portend for DACA students at Wake Forest?
I think that protections provided by DACA are essential. It definitely calls into question and limits the barriers that prevent undocumented people from obtaining work.
But DACA is not enough; it isn’t comprehensive immigration reform or a clean DREAM Act. After watching the shutdown, I was reminded of how toxic and dehumanizing “America first” language can be.
As for Wake Forest, I think it is important for us all to recognize that our “political debates” have real consequences for members of our community.
What policy-making steps would you like to see members of Congress take with regard to social justice and immigration? Any leaders you’re hopeful about for a 2020 presidential nominee?
I strongly encourage everyone to look into the proposed policies that organizations like the United We DREAM Network have come out with.
Last November many of us walked out of classes and meetings in order to support a clean DREAM Act, and policies like these recognize the need for accessible pathways to citizenship and protections for people who are already in the United States.
I’m done making predictions for U.S. presidential elections; I don’t think it is good for my mental health. However, I hope whoever wins doesn’t view immigrants solely for their “economic value.”
What makes you optimistic about the future of social justice activism in 2018?
I’m hopeful that more people will see the need for intersectional activism (shout-out to Kimberlé Crenshaw). I’m optimistic about the potential to center the voices of people who are most impacted by and knowledgeable about areas of social justice.
As you are a graduating senior, what do you see as your legacy for SJI and UndocuDeacs? What do you hope to see each organization accomplish in the future?
I hope UndocuDeacs continues to meet the needs of students and the Winston-Salem community.
As the political and legal landscapes change, so too should groups working to advance justice. Far be it from me to say what these accomplishments should look like.