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Standing for Change

Part-time faculty member co-leads local group seeking racial justice
Story Series
Bridgewater Magazine

If you find yourself driving through Pembroke, don’t be surprised to see Dr. Jennelle Kariotis making a stand in the name of racial justice.

Long interested in issues surrounding social justice, Dr. Kariotis, of the Department of Psychology, jumped at the chance when in June she was invited to join a new group called Pembroke for Racial Justice. Since then, she’s become a co-leader of the group, which is working on a number of fronts, and on several occasions she and other members have demonstrated and held signs in town in support of anti-racism work.

“This effort certainly came out of the urgent need to address the injustices of George Floyd’s death and is only the beginning of having these really difficult conversations,” she said.

Dr. Kariotis has lived in Pembroke since 2014 and has been interested in the issues of equity, social justice and racial policy since she was a pre-teen growing up in Wayland. “That’s when I first learned about the Holocaust,” she said. “One of the things we focused on was freedom of speech and using one’s voice to promote change. And that’s been a focus of mine for a long time.”

Additionally, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself, Dr. Kariotis is all too aware of the inequities of modern society.

The Facebook page for Pembroke for Racial Justice has more than 300 members, and dozens of community members have shown up to participate in what Dr. Kariotis calls “standouts.” The signs they hold reference the police killing of George Floyd and state things like “Racism is a Pandemic Too.”

The group has actively sought to enlist the local police as allies, and it’s paid off. A standout was held in the town center this summer with a police presence, and the department has agreed to the group hanging a sign outside the station that reads “Pembroke for Racial Justice.”

“The majority of what we have encountered has been very positive, and I’m really proud of the members of the police department for all they’ve done with us,” Dr. Kariotis said. “They’ve even encouraged us to put our signs around downtown to show we are an inclusive community, open to any marginalized group, to show we want to welcome and include more people.”

Pembroke for Racial Justice is also working with local school officials to develop curricula that includes lessons on racial inequities and related issues. 

Despite all of these initiatives, Dr. Kariotis recognizes that the group’s progress thus far represents just a start. “There’s a lot of work to be done to make sure people of color get equitable treatment,” she said.

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