The Union Difference The Institute for Social Justice

A commitment to promote social justice and equity.

The Mission of The Institute for Social Justice at Union Institute & University

The mission of The Institute for Social Justice at Union Institute & University is to apply theory to practice through scholar-practitioners, philanthropists, policymakers and other leaders who are committed to promoting social justice and equity in the United States (U.S.) and globally through research, education and policy.

Given its founding mission since 1964, Union Institute & University (Union) has focused on academic excellence, creativity, diversity and integrity.  At its core, however, Union has stayed committed to social justice for advancing and promoting a culturally pluralistic, equitable, and interdependent world.  Ultimately, the Institute seeks to realize significant and demonstrable progress toward social justice by engendering equality, valuing diversity and committing to an innovative teaching and learning culture that reduces economic disparities and eliminates racism.

Background of The Institute for Social Justice at Union Institute & University

Twenty-first century realities and vexing social problems persist while legions of scholars, activists, and advocates continue to describe the problem. What is needed are actions that answer the question, “What to do about the seeming inability to advance social justice?”  The resounding response from the community within Union Institute & University is to achieve concrete results through The Institute for Social Justice at Union Institute & University.

Conceived in 2018, the Institute is a signature initiative under the leadership of Karen Schuster Webb, Ph.D., president of Union, to rekindle the university’s founding mission as a university without walls and borders.  Fundamentally, this means working domestically and internationally. 

Photos promoting social justice and equity

The Institute voices and actualizes 21st century collaborative thought leadership with extant programs and individuals that are committed to providing innovative and pragmatic solutions on a global level through programs that focus on these objectives:

  • Research and propose public policies and programs that reduce economic disparities and accelerate steps to reducing racism.
  • Promote international policies and programs that increase civic engagement.
  • Foster policies that promote economic and social equity.
  • Transform social disparities through dedicated centers of excellence such as education, economic policies and programs, housing, health care, and criminal justice.

These objectives are fulfilled by the Institute through multiple programs, certificates, master classes, events, research, community consultancy and conferences.

The Institute consists of highly engaged leaders doing the work of promoting social justice, scholar-practitioners, social entrepreneurs, and innovators committed to advancing social justice through programs and policies in the present and into the future.

The Role and Purpose of The Institute for Social Justice at Union Institute & University

Domestically and internationally, the growing gap between the haves and have-nots is obvious to anyone who reads, listens to conversations and watches any media source.  Furthermore, this wealth and technological disparity transcends national borders, disregards cultural patterns and promises long-term harm.  Therefore, the work of advancing social justice, in the view of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “transcends borders” by connecting the struggle for civil rights with the promotion of international human rights (Levitt, 2017).

At the same time, rapid technological innovation and viral dissemination of memes, ideas, and events demonstrate the ability to influence governments, policies, economies and the “hearts and minds” of vast populations.  Given these 21st century realities and given the seemingly eternally vexing conundrum that poses the rhetorical question, “What to do about the seeming inability to advance social justice?”, the resounding response from the community within Union Institute & University and its external constituents is to support the work within The Institute for Social Justice at Union Institute & University.

News From The Institute for Social Justice at Union Institute & University

Union Institute & University Receives Grant from Western and Southern Financial Fund

CINCINNATI, OH – Union Institute & University has received a $50,000 grant from the Western and Southern Financial Fund. The grant honors the memory of Eugene P. Ruehlmann, who served as mayor of Cincinnati from 1967-71. Ruehlmann also served on Union’s board of trustees and Western & Southern Financial Group’s board of directors.

Funds from the grant will be used to continue the Eugene P. Ruehlmann Public Service Fellowship Program, which was established by the Western & Southern Financial Fund after Ruehlmann’s passing in 2013. Each year, the Fellowship is awarded to a Union Ph.D. student who demonstrates excellence in the study of Ethical & Creative Leadership or Public Policy & Social Change. Selection is based on the recipient’s doctoral dissertation and research, along with the impact it is expected to have on the community.

Dr. Karen Schuster Webb, Union’s president, said, “Mayor Ruehlmann embodied the principle of leadership through service, collaboration and community-building. We are so grateful to the Western & Southern Financial Fund for this generous gift – which will empower future generations of students to carry on his legacy.”

The new Ruehlmann Fellowship recipients will also become fellows within the university’s Institute for Social Justice. Ms. Betsy Martin, executive director of The Institute for Social Justice at Union Institute & University, added, “We are thrilled to have received this support of our mission to put social justice theory into practice. The contribution of Ruehlmann Fellows will be instrumental to our 2021 Institute for Social Justice offerings.”

The Institute for Social Justice will announce its 2021 offerings in early April.

Union Institute & University Appoints New Social Justice Executive

CINCINNATI, OH –Betsy Martin has been named executive director of the Institute for Social Justice at Union Institute & University. Established in 2018 under the leadership of Union President, Karen Schuster Webb, The Institute was founded to provide innovative and practical solutions that focus on the advancement of social justice around the world.

The Institute’s ultimate goal is to reduce economic disparities, social disparities and racism through research, education and civic engagement. Areas of focus include education, housing, health care, criminal justice and economic policies. In her new role, Ms. Martin will develop strategies and programs that advance The Institute’s objectives.

Union President Dr. Karen Schuster Webb said, “As a Union alumna and recognized expert in digital marketing, Ms. Martin is uniquely qualified to direct The Institute for Social Justice. Her understanding of Union’s commitment to social justice, combined with her success in developing growth strategies for high-profile and socially-conscious organizations, will help us close existing gaps and make a real difference in countries around the world.”

Ms. Martin is the founder and CEO of Vaya Ventures, which owns, licenses, and consults with high-growth companies that provide a meaningful impact to people and the planet. She has led the creation of digital education strategies for The University of Michigan and West Clermont Local School District, is the founder of REALWellness local and virtual wellness center, and past recipients of the Clermont Chamber of Commerce New Business of the Year award.

An internationally recognized eCommerce leader, Ms. Martin has defined and implemented growth strategies for brands that include Nutrisystem, WebMD/Healtheon, Visa International and many more. She has earned over 40 “Best of Digital” awards and coverage in top media outlets – including Best Education Website and Best Shopping Website. As a respected pioneer during the “dot-com” boom, she managed account teams in creative eCommerce sites that set the industry standard for excellence.
Giving and community projects include Veterati (Veterans Employment), Yipi! Healthy & EcoFriendly Marketplace, Women in Technology, KD New York Vegan Cashmere (Harlem Dance Theater collaboration), and InterQ Streaming Media Channel for LGBTQ+.

Ms. Martin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Union Institute and University. She and her family live in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A Message from the President, Karen Schuster Webb: Celebrating Black History Month

Dr. Carter Woodson is often credited for the creation of what evolved into Black History Month, a federally recognized celebration during the month of February to highlight the contributions of African Americans. This is also a time to reflect on the ongoing efforts for racial justice and equity for all.

Union Institute & University is proud to celebrate the accomplishments of those within our community and the impact they have made. I invite you to read about Janet Sims-Wood, Ph.D. 1994, an author and activist who broke barriers in the field of library science who has dedicated her long career to Black history, particularly the accomplishments of women. Read More

Reimagining American Democracy

To commemorate the birth month of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Stewart Burns recently presented an online lecture entitled, “Reimagining American Democracy.” Dr. Burns is Union’s professor of Ethical & Creative Leadership and MLK Studies, as well as a recognized authority on the life and teachings of Dr. King. Register to view an on-demand recording of the lecture for free (and learn more about Dr. Burns).

In Memoriam: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)

Ruth Bader Ginsberg“We live in an age in which the fundamental principles to which we subscribe – liberty, equality and justice for all – are encountering extraordinary challenges, … But it is also an age in which we can join hands with others who hold to those principles and face similar challenges.”

– Ruth Bader Ginsburg

U.S. Congressman Danny K. Davis, UI&U Ph.D. 1977 – Statement on Justice Ginsberg

Keynote Speaker for 2020 Commencement


I know that in the Jewish tradition those who die at the New Year, Rosh Hashanah, are considered special.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was certainly special.  Diminutive in physical size, she was a giant in the struggle for equality, a giant in the struggle for justice to perfect our democracy.  She was the embodiment of the commandment ‘justice, justice, you shall pursue,’ which, I understand, hung in her chambers in Hebrew.

Whoever replaces her has giant shoes to fill.  We are in the midst of historic popular upsurge in reasserting and expanding that democracy in the most inclusive manner in every corner of our nation comparable to the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement.  We are, not coincidently, also in the midst of a historic election.  Filling her shoes belongs, and should belong, to the American people through our constitutional right and responsibility to regularly evaluate and select our leaders at the ballot box.  That right should certainly extend to our Supreme Court whose members enjoy the extraordinary privilege and responsibility of serving for life. The appointment of Justice Ginsburg’s replacement belongs exclusively to the next President and the next Senate, freely and democratically chosen by the American people.

Statement Regarding National Unrest From President Karen Schuster Webb

Karen Schuster WebbThe protests that we see happening across the nation are an expression of rage and grief and disillusionment and exhaustion, but they are also a call for change and an expression of hope.  At Union, we continue to seek out ways to promote anti-racism and dismantle other forms of oppression in our teaching, learning and scholarship.


In Memoriam: U.S. Rep. John R. Lewis (1940-2020)

U.S. Rep. John R. Lewis“Though I am gone, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.”

-John Lewis


Former Ambassador Joins Faculty at Union Institute & University
Dr. Webb and Dr. Alidou

Dr. Hassana Alidou and Dr. Karen Schuster Webb, President

In January 2020, Dr. Hassana Alidou, former ambassador of the Republic of Niger to the United States and Canada, joined Union Institute & University as a faculty member for the Ph.D. of Interdisciplinary Studies program.  Dr. Alidou served as Ambassador of the Republic of Niger to the U.S. and Canada from 2015 to 2019 and is currently the first scholar in residence for The Institute for Social Justice at Union Institute & University.

“I joined the faculty because of the vision and the mission which focuses on equality and opportunity for all and that is what social justice is about,” said Dr. Alidou. “We are training individuals who believe in the capacity in all of us to create a just world.”