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SLU’s Center for Social Action Broadens Scope of the Former Center for Service and Community Engagement

by Maggie Rotermund on 10/15/2021
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Saint Louis University’s Center for Service and Community Engagement is now the Center for Social Action, a move that more fully encompasses the work of the Center and the mission of the University.

SLU formally launched the renamed Center during the 2021 Occupy SLU Week, Oct. 8-15.

Wuller Hall

The Center for Social Action is located in Wuller Hall.

“This is a reboot of our origin story during this week remembering Occupy SLU,” said Bryan Sokol, Ph.D., director of the Center for Social Action. “The work we have always done continues but we are recommitting to the words of the late Norm White that social justice is not a concept to be defined, it is an action to be taken. We hope to better honor his legacy at SLU with this name change.”

The new Center broadens its scope of programming and outreach to include not just acts of charity (philanthropy and volunteerism) but also acts of justice that encourage students to challenge the social and economic causes of inequality and poverty in their communities.  

“The Center for Social Action more fully encompasses the work and puts service front and center,” said Bobby Wassel, Ph.D., associate director of the Center for Social Action. “We are doing service for and with others, addressing some of the short-term needs as we have always done, but also looking forward to address the longer term social justice issues of our community.”

Melissa Apprill, who has led Campus Kitchen, will spearhead the Center’s Good Neighborhood Initiative.

“We want to serve the immediate needs we see in front of us but also work to bridge the gaps where we see inequality,” she said. “Social action demands being an active participant in your world. SLU has been a good neighbor – I think we can be great neighbors to the larger mid-town community and be active participants in the change we want to see.”

The Center’s work will include the strong volunteer effort the University has always brought to its community partners, as well as more learning and leadership opportunities for students.

That includes the 1818 Community Engagement grants, created during SLU’s Bicentennial. Each year the Center allots 18 grants of $1,800 each to selected applicants to make a positive impact in the community in partnership with a local non-profit organization. 

“We are expanding our experiential learning components and listening to our community partners,” Wassel said. “We will still have things like days of service but we hope to facilitate more opportunities for our students to work on systemic change within the community.”

Specifically, the new Center has added staffing that supports students in organizing forms of political advocacy and social action.  

“We will meet students where they are in our developmental framework for social change, but ultimately, we hope to engage students more routinely in social action training, legislative advocacy efforts via letter-writing and call-ins, and small group work that examines policy related to social reform,” said Sokol.

Sokol said the name change was guided by students.

“This is a trajectory we’ve seen take shape over the years,” he said. “The students want more than one-off events – they come to SLU and are guided by their sense of justice and a need to make a difference as men and women for others.”

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In addition to the work the Center for Social Action does for the community around SLU, it also works to help those within the University community. Billiken Bounty, the University food pantry, and Billiken 2 Billiken, a thrift store on campus, will be a part of the Center.

This story is part of a series commemorating Occupy SLU Week. See how SLU formally launched the renamed Division of Diversity and Innovative Community Engagement (DICE) and how the Cross Cultural Center for Global Citizenship was rebranded.

About Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers more than 12,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.