Advancing Social Justice

A day in the life

Advancing Social Justice

Advancing social justice social work student

I feel like I left the class with a whole new person being brought into the world. Even my way of thinking, the way I put myself forward is completely different.

How do you advance social justice?

Most students who enter the Social Work Program want to make the world a better place, so one of our core first-year courses asks the question: Why is there still so much injustice in the world?

Carolyn Campbell and Gail Baikie designed Advancing Social Justice to challenge people’s deeply-held values, beliefs and assumptions. The goal is to strengthen social work students’ committment to making the world a better place.

Start with a pedagogy designed to disrupt

On the first day of class, students walk into the classroom to find glue, coloured pencils, paint, play dough and other arts and crafts supplies sitting on a big table in the middle of the room.

For the first hour of their six hour class, students make a collage representing their view of social justice. Then everyone talks. It’s not as easy as it sounds, says former psychology student Pratheesh Thomas, who trained in the scientific method.

“Here, you write everything in the first person, and you are using everything as an “I” statement. That is my biggest challenge. My mind wouldn’t let me say, “I,” without much support,” he says.

But there’s a method to not having a traditional analytical method.

We want the course content to disrupt the student’s thinking, therefore we need to use teaching methods that also disrupt their learning process ,” explains Dr. Campbell.

Create a space where everyone belongs

Students examine social constructs like race, class, gender, sexual orientation together. They discuss social inequalities and what allows them to exist. Then they imagine how to apply social justice to these unjust situations.

Group projects range from children’s storybooks, pamphlets, magazines, rap songs, or plays. On the final day of presentations, the entire school comes out to see them. It’s an end of the semester event that wraps up with a potluck lunch.

“The methods are great because it’s very inclusive,” says student Chynna Coulter. “It made everyone feel welcome to the course. You don’t have to follow one style of learning. It’s been able to bring us all together as a class.”

Explore values, beliefs and assumptions

For their final paper, students write about how their values, beliefs and assumptions have changed between September and December. Often, the change is remarkable.

I thought I was pretty liberal person. When I came here and started taking this class, that’s when I realized I also had so many prejudices in the way I was thinking and seeing things. This course definitely changed the way I see things,” says Pratheesh.

I feel like I left the class with a whole new person being brought into the world. Even my way of thinking, the way I put myself forward is completely different,” says Chynna.

Prepare to practice social justice

“Some of the course content is upsetting to students so we encourage them to view their emotional reactions as a source of knowledge about themselves as future social workers.” says Dr. Campbell.

Learning how to deal with uncertainty and contradiction is an essential skill for social workers, says Dr. Campbell. That’s why students are asked to dig deep into the course content. Facing tough issues head on in class prepares you mentally and emotionally for tough situations involving real situations when you start work.  

Student Jessica Rockwood immediately saw the benefit of the open discussions her group had, especially when everyone brought different religious views to the table.

“We actually worked really well together once we got it all out there and we realized it didn’t matter what our religious views were. The point of the project wasn’t to defend a certain thing – it was to see how we can work together.”