Over 70 students from various majors – including pre-medical chemistry, communications, graphic design, history, philosophy, political science, psychology, sociology-criminology, and strategic leadership and management, among others – have come together in a new course this semester to learn about social justice.
“The Course is actually a microcosm of what’s going on in society. People want to understand what’s going on and why. And they want to understand what their role might be,” said Holly Ningard, Ph.D., professor teaching assistant in sociology. at the College of Arts and Sciences, which teaches SOC/ANTH 2700: Social Justice.
Ningard says his goal in designing the course is to show students how to examine what social, legal and cultural systems and institutions are currently doing — and whether they might want them to change to produce different results. Its students may be observers or actors in today’s social justice movements, but they certainly want to understand how the wheels turn in various systems and what levers might change the directions of today’s society and culture. today.
“For example, consider our education system. What do they want? Do they want fair and equal access? More choice ? More funding? If the systems do what you want them to do, that’s fine. But often our institutions don’t do the things we think they should be doing. This is where social justice movements come in,” Ningard said.
To this end, Ningard has built the course around “When We Fight, We Win: 21st Century Social Movements and Activists Transforming Our World,” by Greg Jobin-Leeds and the AgitArte Collective.
“It’s an inspiring book,” she says. The book features essays written by the leaders of some of the most successful movements of the past decade, from the legalization of same-sex marriage to the Black Lives Matter movement. “These activists, artists and organizers talk about what makes transformative social change possible. For each case study, we talk about what those movements have accomplished, and then discuss how those battles continue; they are not finished.
Align career goals with social issues
Ningard says the book does a good job of “showing the people doing the work. In our courses, we are often good at pointing out problems, but less good at presenting concrete strategies to respond to these programs. “When we fight, we win,” shows that activism is more than just protest. Protest offers an important visual display of resistance. But social justice work is embedded in what so many people do – like joining local government. Students see that people don’t just complain and report problems. They are actually doing the work of transformative justice,” she said.
“Students think deeply about how the course topics apply to their majors. They are interested in so many different careers. Some of them want to study law and others want to become police officers. But most of them are trying to figure out how to pursue a career related to social justice,” Ningard added. As an interdisciplinary course bridging areas of social science, SOC/ANTH 2700″ enables students to understand and respond to social disparities and structural inequalities associated with race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, citizenship, religion and other categories…locally, nationally and globally.”
Jhasmin Glass, a first-year business student, said: “Whatever your major, this course will allow you to improve. We live in a deeply globalized and interdependent world. This course will help you understand the concepts that shape the social climate around you and become aware of the power structures that control our society.”
“The theme of the course is that when you talk about social justice as a process, it’s not linear or binary,” says Ningard. “It’s a continuous process of evaluation and re-evaluation. What do you want your systems and institutions to do? Who is left out? And how do you get people to the table – or build another separate table? …the idea that there are multiple ways to achieve transformative social justice.
Next steps in the study of social movements today
Long before politics and activism made headlines and social media, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology conducted research and taught courses on the ideologies, practices, and institutions that organize human societies. Sociology and anthropology study human behavior, social interaction, and social organization. Although sociologists and anthropologists adopt different perspectives and methodologies, both are interested in how societies are organized and why people act the way they do.
Sociology and anthropology both offer tools to analyze the causes and manifestations of injustice, both nationally and globally, and help students understand how people organize and educate themselves to make the better world. These disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches address human rights, social and economic inequality, social movements, racial justice organizing, feminist perspectives, law and advocacy, and international justice. Students learn tools of social and cultural analysis to better understand local and global inequalities and injustices, then translate their analyzes into meaningful action in the real world.
SOC/ANTH 2700 fits into the new BRICKS general education curriculum as Foundations: Cross-Cultural Explorations and Arches: Constructed World.
Students interested in social justice can use SOC/ANTH 2700 as a stepping stone to other sociology and anthropology courses:
- Interdisciplinary Interdisciplinary Course SOC/ANTH 2400: Breaking the Law (Foundations: Intercultural Explorations and Arches)
- Service Learning Course SOC 3090C: Appalachian Society (Bridges: Learning and Doing)
- Junior Composition Course ANTH/SOC 3568J: Writing for Social Justice (Foundations: Advanced Writing)
- Junior Composition Course Abroad for Spring Break SOC 3561J: Writing on Food, Hunger and Inequality with a Focus on Ireland
- Spring Break Study Abroad Course ANTH 4620: Human Rights, Law and Justice with a Focus on Northern Ireland