The Social Justice League

The Social Justice League

Rollins faculty devote their lives to making a difference in the classroom—and the world.

By Kristen Manieri
Photos by Judy Watson Tracy

Lisa Tillmann. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

Kathryn Norsworthy. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

Professor of Critical Media and Cultural Studies

Professor of Graduate Studies in Counseling

CAUSE Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights

THE PROBLEM “If there are no federal, state, or county laws protecting our LGBT citizens, then a person can be fired based on sexual orientation, and that person would have no grounds for a discrimination case,” Lisa Tillmann says.

THEIR IMPACT For more than a decade, Tillmann and Kathryn Norsworthy have worked with the Orlando Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Committee to secure protections for Central Floridians from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and of gender identity and expression. In the process, they have worked to reform or create more than a dozen city and county policies and ordinances, including securing domestic partner benefits for City of Orlando employees, and most recently, establishing the City of Orlando and Orange County Domestic Partnership Registries. “Because of these ordinances, it is now illegal in Orange County to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression,” Tillmann says.

BRINGING THE CAUSE TO CAMPUS Tillmann and Norsworthy have lobbied for the transformation of domestic partner and gender discrimination policies and helped implement the Safe Zone program, which has trained numerous members of the Rollins community to be allies with the LGBT community on campus and beyond.

TEACHING LGBT RIGHTS “I teach a class on gender, solidarity, and equality, which includes coursework about LGBT issues and history,” Tillmann says. “Many of my students aren’t familiar with the legal situation in the LGBT community and continually express surprise that we are still talking about these reforms in 2012. Most have thought these were settled issues and wonder why they still aren’t resolved.” Norsworthy infuses advocacy into all the courses she teaches in the masters in counseling program. “The counseling profession has institutionalized the ethical imperative that we use our knowledge and skills to change social, political, and cultural inequities rooted in homophobia, racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression that lead people to have mental health issues in the first place,” says Norsworthy, referring to forms of discrimination that limit people’s access to opportunities and basic needs, lead them to feel as if they can’t succeed, or create barriers that can’t be overcome.

THE IMPORTANCE OF ADVOCACY While both Tillmann and Norsworthy take seriously their role in creating the next generation of responsible citizens, they see their contributions to their community as being equally essential. “It’s critical that we as faculty do more than understand social justice conceptually. We need to develop and practice the social change competencies and skills—to ‘walk the talk’—particularly in terms of effectively partnering with other individuals and groups in the community who do this work and fight these fights,” Norsworthy explains.

Pedro Bernal. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

Professor of Chemistry

CAUSE Water purification in the Dominican Republic

HOW HE GOT STARTED A Dominican Republic (D.R.) native, Pedro Bernal began working on clean water projects 20 years ago. “My first exposure to the water situation in rural communities occurred during a mission trip to the D.R. with the Catholic Diocese of Orlando,” he says. “We were involved in aid work on western provinces along the Haitian border, and being the chemist in the group made it a natural fit for me to engage in the water side of the equation.”

HIS IMPACT Since 1998, Bernal has distributed about 15,000 filters in rural D.R. The filters allow residents to purify water at home. “None of my training in grad school had anything to do with what we’re working on with these filters,” says Bernal, who gets financial support for his work from the College as well as civic and non-governmental organizations. “I just kept troubleshooting, testing, and improving until we have what we have now, which works reasonably well.”

SUPPORTING PUBLIC HEALTH Studies have shown that providing a source of potable water doesn’t always mean people won’t get sick. For that reason, water projects should always be combined with some sort of hygiene and sanitation promotion campaign. “We provide the filter, and we also try to educate people about the importance of hygiene and environmental sanitation in reducing the incidence of waterborne disease. It’s been shown, for instance, that washing your hands in a systematic way can combat disease with much the same impact as providing clean water.”

BRINGING THE CAUSE TO CAMPUS Over the last 15 years, Bernal has led annual student trips to the D.R. for water purification and community-building projects. “We do water quality analysis work in the villages where there are existing filters. I could not have done this without the students,” Bernal says. “Invariably, the students who participate have a very good experience.” For example, Laveta Stewart ’00 and Elizabeth Thiele ’01 participated in the D.R. field experience multiple times while attending Rollins, an experience that impacted their career choices.

DOING HIS SMALL PART “I don’t have any illusions about the kind of impact I have—I am a small operation. But it’s not necessarily something that bothers me. My aim is to try to serve as well as I can those I can serve. I’m always looking for more resources to do projects, but I’m not fundamentally a fundraiser. I much prefer to be on the ground, working with the communities.”

HIS ADVICE Bernal suggests choosing a cause based on your resources and talents. “This is now part of my life, and I have been able to dedicate time and resources to this in ways that if I were at other institutions it would be harder to do,” Bernal says. “The College has been incredibly supportive of what I do and has invested money to allow students to go to the D.R. regularly. At Rollins, if you find something you love to do, you can go in that direction. I feel incredibly grateful to have something that essentially gives a direction to my life and activities.”

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