Catalyst Series for Social Justice

Sparking Action for Social Change

At the Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW), we don’t just educate students. We also help to educate our community through programs such as the Catalyst Series for Social Justice. Founded in 2016, the Catalyst Series brings campus and community together for timely — and sometimes tough — discussions and workshops on a broad range of issues.

Whether the topic is white fragility, body positivity or art as activism, the goals are the same: to inform, prompt reflection, facilitate public dialogue and spark action.

“It’s important that GSSW initiate these types of conversations so they become more mainstream and so that the community has a safe space to talk about injustices and marginalization that is taking place everywhere, all the time.” 

Liza Saffo, MSW ’15, “White Fragility” Attendee

8,000 people The Catalyst Series for Social Justice has engaged more than 8,000 people since 2016, either in person or online. Since all Catalyst Series events are streamed via Facebook Live, you don’t have to be in Denver to take part!

Watch Past Events

The Catalyst Series considers social justice from many perspectives and offers something for everyone. Did you miss an event? Learn more about past events and watch some online.

  • Detoxing From Grind Culture

    Grind culture refers to the false belief that to be considered valuable or worthy in our society, one must be productive. Lurking in the shadow of capitalism, grind culture is accepted as normal, even necessary, and most people aren’t even aware of the harmful ways it impacts us.

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  • Connection with the Natural World

    "Braiding Sweetgrass" is an inspiring collection of essays about the natural world that weaves together Indigenous wisdom, plant science and personal narrative, inviting readers to revitalize their connection with the natural world.

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  • Radical Self-Love

    World-renowned activist, poet, and author of "The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love", Sonya Renee Taylor invites us to reconnect with the radical origins of our minds and bodies and to celebrate our collective, enduring strength.

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  • Pleasure Activism

    Adrienne Maree Brown offers a keynote presentation on social change and pleasure activism, a politics of healing and happiness that explodes the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work.

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  • Exploring Racialized Trauma

    As a therapist, trauma specialist and the founder of Justice Leadership Solutions, a leadership consultancy firm, Resmaa Menakem dedicates his expertise to coaching leaders through civil unrest, organizational change and community building.

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  • White Fragility

    White Americans live in a racially insular social environment that builds their expectations for racial comfort and lowers their stamina for enduring racial stress. That is the contention of author Robin DiAngelo, PhD, who spoke about what she calls “white fragility,” white racial identity and race relations.

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  • Art and Activism

    Art can inspire, educate and help spur the imagination and has always been part of social change movements. Artist–activist Favianna Rodriguez discussed her powerful and unapologetic artwork and how artists nationwide have organized around racial and migrant rights and shifting public sentiment. Attendees shared their own art through live performances and displays.

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  • Truth to Power: Personal Storytelling for Social Justice

    Participants learned to use personal storytelling as a tool for critical self-reflection, practiced applying key concepts of narrative to their own personal stories, and discussed how to use storytelling to advocate for social justice. The workshop culminated with participants sharing their own “truth to power” stories for a live audience.

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  • Racist and Anti-Racist Humor

    Latino cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz and sociologist Raúl Pérez, PhD, led an enriching dialogue on the evolution of racist humor since the civil rights era and the pushback against such humor, which created an opening for anti-racist humor and non-white comics to enter the mainstream.

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  • Rules for Radicals in the 21st Century

    Graduate School of Social Work Dean Amanda Moore McBride led an interactive fireside chat with acclaimed community organizer Ernesto “Ernie” Cortes, co-chair of the Industrial Areas Foundation, who discussed community organizing and social change in the 21st century.

  • The Power of Place

    Lydia Prado, PhD, shared a case study for community engagement with the Dahlia Campus for Health & Well-Being. She discussed how community conversations transformed a vacant lot into a national model in community mental health, exploring concepts of historical context, food scarcity, responsive community engagement, real-life social determinants of health, inclusivity and services across the lifespan.

  • DeRay McKesson on Justice, Power and Freedom

    DeRay McKesson shared insights on the importance of hope as a catalyst for change and how to make a difference in our local and global community. Mckesson, host of Crooked Media’s podcast "Pod Save the People" drew upon his experiences as an activist in Ferguson and his public advocacy for justice and accountability for the victims of police violence and the end of mass incarceration. 

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  • Truth to Power: Challenging Systems, Creating Wellness

    The 2019 Storytelling for Social Justice event focused on challenging systems to create wellness for ourselves or others. Ten people shared their personal stories of challenging a system to create wellness.

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  • WET: A DACAmented Journey

    Alex Alpharaoh is a multi-disciplined award-winning performance artist from Los Angeles, California with a decade of experience performing across the country. Alpharaoh's latest solo show, "WET: A DACAmented Journey," is an autobiographical depiction of what it means to be an American in every sense of the word, except on paper. 

  • Trista Harris: The Future of Social Change

    Drawing insights from visionaries ranging from Sir Richard Branson to the founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Trista Harris discussed how we can create positive change in our ever-changing world by using tools and patterns of futurism. 

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  • Indigenous Women Lead

    Led by Associate Professor Ramona Beltrán, this event illuminated the leadership of Indigenous women in responding to some of our most pressing social issues and how, through resistance and creativity, they are healing the world around them.

  • To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults

    Representations of older transgender people are nearly absent from our culture and those that do exist are often one-dimensional. For over five years, photographer Jess T. Dugan and social worker Vanessa Fabbre traveled throughout the United States, capturing the experiences that exist within the complex intersections of gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic class, and geographic location. They traveled from coast to coast, to big cities and small towns, documenting the life stories of this important but largely underrepresented group of older adults.

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  • Truth and Reparations

    Hosted by David Ragland, PhD, co-founder and co-executive director of the Truth Telling Project and the director of the Grassroots Reparations Campaign. Ragland explored issues regarding progressive politics, reparations and the systemic changes needed to enact them in the United States and the world at large. 

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  • Social Isolation

    Hosted by Priya Parker, acclaimed author of "The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters" and the host of the New York Times podcast, Together Apart, as we explored the impacts of forced isolation and a more connected future.
    The summit was infused with many of Priya Parker’s principles of gathering, unlike virtual events you’ve attended in the past. This highly interactive experience, created opportunities for attendees to connect with one another around topics of interest. We explored the impacts of social isolation on various populations, as well as alternative models of connection and care designed to meet the changing needs of a lonely world.

University of Denver Campus

Whether you’re looking for social justice discussions, science symposia or continuing education options, you’ll find it at the Graduate School of Social Work.

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