As part of our course curriculum, students read and reflect on stories of persons working for social justice, as well as consider and wrestle with varying definitions and understandings of the term. To further explore the concept, students participate in what I call the Four Quadrants exercise.
In this exercise, students are asked to get up and move to the center of the room. The far end of the room is labeled with the word “Just,” the back end of the room “Unjust,” the right side of the room is labeled “Effective,” and the left side “Ineffective.” Students are told to define these terms however they choose. Students are then invited to imagine two lines forming a cross to divide the room, a vertical line up and down the center of the room, and a horizontal line across the room from left to right, effectively splitting the room into four quadrants.
Students are then presented with a social justice scenario and asked to interpret the facts for themselves and to vote with their feet, to take a stand by standing in a particular quadrant. Where they stand literally reflects where they stand metaphorically, and how they understand the notion of social justice as practically applied.
After the Four Quadrants exercise, students collectively create a class definition of social justice. They struggle with this collective task; it is always challenging. They then study the history of the social work profession’s efforts to do the same, and they come to understand that the social work profession has also struggled to define social justice.
I also share with students my proposed definition of social justice, noting that it integrates concepts from social work association ethical statements and principles, as well as social science, philosophical, theological, and educational research and writings.
Radical Insight: Global Social Justice and Nonviolent Peacemaking Course
In the midst of the divisiveness of the U.S. presidential election of 2016, notions of race, immigration, environmental justice, war and peace, terrorism, patriotism, and social justice are complicated. In the midst of this national and global climate of tension and uncertainty, what does it mean to engage in the work of global social justice and nonviolent peacemaking? In the midst of an increasingly interconnected global community, where the disparity between the “haves” and “have-nots” continues to grow and the 99% cry out for economic justice, what does it mean to live a life committed to peace and justice? To whom can we look for wisdom, guidance and radical insight? What radical insights do we have to offer the world?