With the start of the 2011-2012 academic year, the Colleges launched a Social Justice Studies Program (SJS) with two minor options: Social Justice Studies, and Civic Engagement and Social Justice. The program was developed in response to increased student interest. Over the past six years, nearly a quarter of all students completing individual majors have done so with a social justice focus.
“The Social Justice Studies program offers students an interdisciplinary academic concentration that is rooted in the concept of equality and the recognition of human rights,” explains Donna Davenport, professor and chair of the dance department. She and Assistant Professor of History Colby Ristow are co-coordinators of the SJS program. “Social justice studies across the curriculum, in history, rhetoric, politics, religion, philosophy, law, economics, media, and the arts interrogate inequalities in gender, social class, sexuality, and race, and the systems that perpetuate them.”
The Social Justice Studies minor takes a theoretical approach to the subject and includes a capstone practical experience. The Civic Engagement and Social Justice minor is a more immersive and integrative program in which theory and practice go hand-in-hand.
“The Social Justice Minor, which includes an introductory course to Community Based Research, provides an exciting opportunity for students to maximize the potential of their engaged scholarship endeavors,” explains Katie Flowers, director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. “Students will have the opportunity to explore key concepts, including community asset mapping, ethical implications and accountability, and research methods, which will enhance the student/community partner encounters. Students are interested in aligning their academic interests with their personal commitment to social justice issues and the creation of this minor is an innovative approach to balancing both.”
Like other interdisciplinary programs, the social justice studies program will complement a variety of majors and help prepare students for post-graduate possibilities including graduate study, law school and employment in the non-profit sector. Students who have recently graduated with a focus on social justice studies have pursued graduate study in sociology, education, public health, law school and work with AmeriCorps and Teach for America.
The program’s first declared minor is Cory Andrews ’12 who, over the course of three years, has chosen elective classes across multiple disciplines that all centered on the main theme of social justice. He spent the summer on campus interning with the literary journal, the Seneca Review, as well as working as a research assistant for Karen Frost-Arnold, assistant professor of philosophy. When he learned the minor had been approved, he says it was his “first choice.”
“SJS really becomes something you can’t stop thinking about; you can’t forget the kinds of things you learn in SJS because they are so poignant and closely tied to all of our everyday lives,” says Andrews. “The theoretical as well as practical requirements of the program are something that I think will stay with me. I can think critically about social problems, but I can also begin to think about how I might actually face them practically.”
In addition to Davenport and Ristow, current steering committee members Neeta Bhasin, assistant professor of writing/rhetoric, and Khuram Hussain, assistant professor of education, are seeking to expand the committee to include faculty who teach social justice across the curriculum.
“I’m thrilled that the program is now an option for students,” says Andrews.
In the photo above, Colby Ristow, Donna Davenport and Cory Andrews meet outside of Trinity Hall.