Saint Mary’s Univer­sity Arts

A new pro­gram aims for ac­tion, not just words, to fight in­jus­tice

The Coast - Career Minded - - NEWS -

Be­tween me­dia aware­ness, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial ac­tivism, and changes in univer­sity man­dates, we are see­ing a strength­en­ing of dis­courses on peo­ple speak­ing out about the pro­duc­tion of so­cial in­jus­tice. But there’s some­thing miss­ing. Univer­sity man­dates and poli­cies are talk­ing the talk with lan­guage around di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion but how does this trans­late into mean­ing­ful en­gage­ments? This gap is ex­actly what Val Marie John­son, Benita Bun­jun and the rest of the new Depart­ment of So­cial Jus­tice & Com­mu­nity Stud­ies (SJCS) at Saint Mary’s Univer­sity are try­ing to fill — lo­cally and be­yond.

“There is a real crav­ing from stu­dents to have cour­ses and dis­cus­sions that shift away from the con­ser­va­tive ways of think­ing,” says Bun­jun, As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor in SJCS. This ris­ing con­cern comes from our youth who en­vi­sion a more just world. The fac­ulty is hear­ing their stu­dents’ and other com­mu­nity mem­bers’ pleas, and have shaped a new So­cial Jus­tice & Com­mu­nity Stud­ies Mi­nor, which starts in Fall 2018, around these de­sires for en­gage­ment.

“I think that in con­nec­tion with the schol­ar­ship, we’re in­ter­ested in build­ing stronger so­cial re­la­tions and ties. Com­bin­ing aca­demic learn­ing with com­mu­nity en­gage­ment, we seek to strengthen the so­cial fab­ric in a time where divi­sion and con­flict, and po­lar­iza­tion and inequal­i­ties are more marked,” says John­son, As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor and Act­ing Chair of SJCS. The depart­ment’s fac­ulty are in­ter­ested in ad­dress­ing these so­cial re­al­i­ties, and strength­en­ing and build­ing bridges within and be­tween so­cial groups, the univer­sity and com­mu­ni­ties in a care­ful and eth­i­cal way.

The depart­ment is de­vel­op­ing new pro­grams for non-in­tru­sive work in col­lab­o­ra­tion with com­mu­ni­ties. All of the fac­ulty (cur­rently Bun­jun, John­son and As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Darryl Ler­oux, with a fourth po­si­tion to be hired) have al­ready been do­ing com­mu­nity-based teach­ing and re­search. They are seek­ing to ex­pand this and pro­duce more ex­plicit ethics for so­cial jus­tice and com­mu­nity work. “Now that we have this depart­ment and mi­nor pro­gram, and are de­vel­op­ing a ma­jor, we can re­ally think in depth about how to learn and work in a more re­spect­ful way,” say Bun­jun and John­son.

Aca­dem­i­cally, so­cial jus­tice is an im­por­tant grow­ing area of schol­ar­ship in North Amer­ica and be­yond. “But the big­gest bar­rier in the univer­sity is that so­cial jus­tice and com­mu­nity work is of­ten la­belled as ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar rather than a schol­arly dis­ci­pline that can be stud­ied at the BA, MA and PhD lev­els,” Bun­jun notes. She speaks to the need for a more rel­e­vant and re­spon­si­ble frame for what “com­mu­nity work” is, and how SJCS are us­ing its depart­ment and pro­grams to tackle chal­lenges but also en­vi­sion a dif­fer­ent world.

The SJCS mi­nor and fu­ture pro­grams will pro­vide peo­ple with the tools for prob­lem-solv­ing in a wide range of con­texts. SJCS is meant to at­tract stu­dents from the arts, but also those from sci­ence or busi­ness, as well as pro­fes­sion­als and com­mu­nity mem­bers work­ing in fields where so­cial jus­tice and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment are rel­e­vant. “We see these in­tel­lec­tual tools as rel­e­vant to ev­ery­one, whether you plan to study jour­nal­ism, law or so­cial work, or are al­ready work­ing in com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions, gov­ern­ment, busi­ness and more,” John­son says. The Depart­ment of So­cial Jus­tice & Com­mu­nity Stud­ies en­cour­ages stu­dents who want to spe­cial­ize in SJCS; stu­dents from all fields who want to en­hance their aware­ness of so­cial jus­tice and com­mu­nity is­sues; and any­one from the com­mu­nity and pro­fes­sions, to join the new depart­ment in its work.

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