Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership?

The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership(ACSJL) is a non-partisan initiative of Kalamazoo College, whose mission is to develop and sustain leaders in human rights and social justice through education and capacity-building. ACSJL expands on the College’s tradition of seeking to educate students in the liberal arts and sciences so that each student develops a commitment to justice and enlightened leadership.

We are a unit of Kalamazoo College meant to engage the local & global community around social justice leadership; we are not an independent nonprofit or a community granting agency.

What is social justice?

Social justice recognizes the inherent dignity of all people and values every life equally.  It calls for both personal reflection and social change to ensure that each of us has the right and the opportunity to thrive in our communities, regardless of our identities.  When we acknowledge that oppression exists and work to end systemic discrimination and structural inequities, we increase the promise of a more just world.

Issue areas we address include, but are not limited to:  Gender & Sexuality, Art & Justice, Educational Equity, Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Prison Reform, Health Equity, Immigration, Race & Racism, Food Justice.

How does ACSJL receive its funding?

The ACSJL is fully funded by an endowment to the College from the Arcus Foundation.  The commitment made in January 2012 solidified the Arcus foundation’s $20 Million investment, which is the largest grant in the college’s history, and the largest given to any US undergraduate institution for social justice specifically. The ACSJL building was entirely funded by a $5 million gift from Jon Stryker, Arcus Foundation president and founder, K’82.

When was ACSJL founded?

Planning for the Arcus Center began in 2009, with the endowment from the Arcus Foundation. ACSJL was fully up and running by the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year. The building opened in the Fall of 2014, after more than four years of planning, designing, and building.

Tell me about the Arcus Center building.

The ACSJL building was designed by award-winning architect Jeanne Gang and her Studio Gang architectural firm. It was designed with social justice in mind throughout. In the planning phases, the team reflected on what communal gathering places have looked like throughout communities around the globe: often round and with a fireplace and kitchen in the center. The cordwood masonry on the exterior uses untreated white cedar from Michigan and the different sizes and shapes are meant to represent the vast differences in humanity. Environmental considerations were a primary focus during the design and building process of the building, and all the trees which were cut from the site were used in the building, in the form of furniture and wood accents. The site is stormwater neutral with porous concrete which allows rainwater to soak into the ground, rather than running off into storm drains. The unique three-sided shape of the building represents our relationship to the world around us: one large window faces a grove of trees which represents our relationship with the natural world, one faces towards Kalamazoo College, which represents our relationship with scholarship and academia, and the third faces towards the neighborhood, which represents our relationship with the community here in Kalamazoo and around the world.

How does ACSJL engage K College students, faculty and staff? The local and global community?

The ACSJL engages the K College students, faculty, staff, and community members through social justice education and capacity building.

The educational components include:

  • In collaboration with campus and community organizations, more than 40 events and convenings are held annually, designed to address current issues and build capacity for social change. All programs are open to the campus and the community.
  • The ACSJL Leadership Training Series provides opportunities throughout the year for more in depth learning about social justice issues as well as building capacity and tools as a social justice leader. Leadership trainings are all free and open to the community.
  • With/Out-¿Borders? Conference – Biennial gathering of leading scholar-activists, academics, and grassroots organizers to critically engage with one another, and with K students, across issues, disciplines, and generations.
  • Praxis Center is an online social justice resource for activists, scholars, and artists, across disciplines, issue area, and location. See more below.

The capacity building components include:

  • The Social Justice Leadership Fund (SJLF) provides grants available to students, faculty, and staff for projects (including Senior Individualized Projects) and other leadership development opportunities.
  • We help place Kalamazoo College students at social justice organizations for summer internships across the globe, offering an opportunity to integrate theory and practice at no cost to the organization.
  • Support for innovative and interdisciplinary academic initiatives that infuse social justice into a rigorous liberal arts curriculum, including faculty workshops and trainings, support for social justice concentrations and initiatives.
  • The ACSJL offers fellowships to Kalamazoo College faculty, staff, and students, as well as members of the Kalamazoo community as a way to introduce new scholarship, energy, and social justice activity and engagement to the Kalamazoo College campus and the Kalamazoo community. Faculty and Staff Fellowships provide Kalamazoo College employees with time away from their positions on campus, in order to deeply engage in a social justice and human rights initiative of their design. Student Fellowships support the social justice leadership development of students by deep involvement with the day to day and big-picture work of the ACSJL. The Regional Fellows program began in Fall 2015 and builds leadership capacity for emerging and veteran social justice leaders in Kalamazoo County.

What is the Praxis Center?

The Praxis Center is an online resource center for scholars, activists, and artists hosted by the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College. From action research and radical scholarship to engaged teaching and grassroots activism to community and cultural organizing, and revelatory art practice, we make visible imperative social justice work being done today. Praxis is the synergy between theory and practice, knowledge and relevance, ideas, images, and the real. Praxis is not just focused on one issue, but covers a variety of topics and issues, all through the lens of social justice. It also has a vast resource center, with tools to help teach, read, watch/listen and act within each subject area. The Praxis Center is meant to be both a teaching and learning tool across a variety of issues.

How can I get involved with ACSJL?

  • Sign up for our weekly emails about our programming, our weekly Praxis post, and on our volunteer email list
  • Attend events, including the With/Out-¿Borders? Conference and leadership training
  • Visit the Praxis Center
  • Get informed about volunteer opportunities
  • Visit the space! The building is open to the public for informal use (reading, studying, etc) during normal hours, when not reserved M-F 9 am-9 pm

Can I partner with ACSJL on an event?

Any organization or individual looking to hold an event with a social justice focus can partner with the Arcus Center. This can either be in the form of a co-sponsorship or a partnership, depending on the level of involvement of ACSJL. The Arcus Center building is available for any organization or group that needs a space for an event, as long as the event is in line with our mission. For further questions on working with ACSJL, please email

What are the ACSJL Advisory Boards?

The Arcus Center Advisory Board (ACAB) is ACSJL’ s local advisory board, consisting of student representatives, college faculty, college staff, and key community members. The Faculty Advisory Board (FAB) is made up of the current faculty fellows, class deans, the Associate Provost, the two Arcus Center faculty chairs and three at large members. The Global Advisory Board (GAB) features key members in the global community of social justice leaders, who act as ambassadors, serve as a sounding board and do work that reflects the center’s values and aspirations.

Can I use the ACSJL building?

The Arcus Center building is available for any organization or group that needs a space for a unique event, as long as the event is in line with our mission and values.

How can I stay up to date on ACSJL?

Sign up for our email list! Each week we send out an email with our programs and events for that week. You can also sign up for the Praxis Center‘s weekly newsletter, which includes a new article posted every week and more, here.

What is the indigenous history of the land we are on?

The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership would like to acknowledge the native history of the land on which it is located. Like all of this country, the City of Kalamazoo is built on a legacy of colonial conquest. Centuries before the first European permanent settlers arrived in the 1820s, the first inhabitants of this land were Native Americans of the Hopewell Culture, who are called ‘Moundbuilders’. The only testament to their memory remains in the form of a small mound in downtown’s Bronson Park. The Potowami Nation lived on this land after the decline of the Hopewell civilization and were the original residents when the white colonizers came. The Treaty of Chicago in 1821 forced the Potowami to concede the land to the colonizers while a tract of land, which was to become the present-day City of Kalamazoo, was reserved for the Native American village of Match-e-be-nash-e-wish at the head of the Kekalamazoo (Kalamazoo) River.

ACSJL hopes that with this acknowledgment, we can honor the memory of this land and the people from whom it was taken.