Upon the introduction of the Foundations of Social Justice elective at M-A this year, students in the class have studied a variety of social justice issues and set plans to expand their reach across the community.
Teachers Sherinda Bryant and Mallory Byrne proposed the class and now teach it. The idea started inside the EASE Committee, a committee dedicated to addressing issues of inequalities on campus, and which Bryant and Byrne were members of. Bryant said, “We discussed student experiences, but really the tipping point was looking at the comments on the Instagram page ma4racialjustice.”
@ma4racialjustice is a page dedicated to posting racist incidents M-A students and alumni have experienced.
Bryant said, “We listened to students. In recent years, we have had protests, walkouts, days of silence, and people mad about the ‘Strength in Diversity’ motto. There are all kinds of energies floating around, so we thought, let’s see what happens if we bring together people who want to do something about these issues, to create real change.”
Jenna Mauricia Menifee, a student in the class, said, “I joined this course because, as a young Black woman, I want to have a voice in activism and I want to be more educated on social justice issues.”
Students deal with heavy subjects throughout the course. Bryant said, “A typical class day is responsive to what’s happening in current events.”
One project students took on recently was researching the Texas abortion ban on pregnancy after six weeks. They were split into groups, each assigned different research lenses. “Part of social justice,” Bryant explained, “is looking at all the sides, even though it is very difficult when you are passionate about an issue.” For example, students assigned the pro-life lense found arguments from pro-life organizations to examine their beliefs and why they felt that way.
Junior Parsa Zaheri said, “We think of social justice as usually affecting one group, and can ignore the widespread effects. This course is really interesting because it makes you look at things through all the different perspectives, helping you come to a solution.”
Senior Luke Jensen explained that he also experienced a restructuring of his worldview as a result of this class. He said, “In this class so far, I’ve learned the importance of true definitions. Many people are unaware of what being ‘a racist’ actually means. Using racist as a slur is incorrect—it’s actually a descriptive term. Ibram X. Kendi describes this in his book How to be an Antiracist.”
As the year continues, students will cover more about different identities and their intersections. Mauricia Menifee said, “We’re yet to learn about Black history which is something else I am passionate about. I’m not educated enough on a lot of social issues, but I want to learn.”
Because topics the social justice course covers can be emotionally distressing, teachers Bryant and Byrne have dedicated each Friday to being a “Joy Day.” Students take a break from what they have been learning in the week to play games or do other methods of unwinding.
While students have done significant work inside of the class, Bryant said, “This social justice class can not sit amongst these walls. By its very nature, we have to be social. We can learn about the issues, but it doesn’t make sense to just learn it and not share it with the greater campus.”
Bryant said the class is planning to host events in the future where all students are invited, such as an open-mic night or a Flex time meeting. Bears can also look forward to reading from a social justice blog run by students in the class.