Students Sign Petition To Expand ‘Social Justice Education’ At Prestigious University

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Inspired by the protests in Ferguson and the “I Can’t Breathe” die-in movement, students at Bard College are being urged to sign a petition to “expand social justice education” at the college.

Signs plastered around campus explain the petition’s five proposals:

1) Revamping the “Rethinking Difference” Requirement
2) Language & Thinking Social Justice Orientation
3) Faculty Engagement with Social Justice
4) Rethinking the First-Year Seminar Curriclum [sic]
5) Sophomore Social Justice Seminar

To find out more information about the petition, a QR code takes individuals to a website featuring images of students protesting for causes such as “I Can’t Breathe.”

The petition describes social justice “as the equitable distribution of opportunities, privileges, and resources in society as they apply to both individual and intersecting issues of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sex, sexuality, religion, age, socioeconomic circumstances, ability, nationality, and all characteristics of background or group membership.”

The creators of the petition want to revamp the Bard curriculum to help students develop “a basic level of cultural competency: an interdisciplinary understanding of social justice issues and the analytical lenses through which to critically view them.”

The first issue the petition addresses is Bard’s “Rethinking Difference” requirement. The “Rethinking Difference” requirement is “satisfied by any course that is primarily focused on the study of difference in the context of larger social dynamics. The course may address, but is not limited to addressing, differences of race, religion, ethnicity, class, gender, and/or sexuality. It may consider, but is not limited to considering, the contexts of globalization, nationalism, and social justice.”

According to the creators of the petition, the explicit social justice element of the “Rethinking Difference” requirement is not sufficiently focused on social justice. The petition wants to require the college’s curriculum committee to meet with the student-run Educational Policies Committee and Multicultural Diversity Committee in order to review the courses and the syllabi that are being used to meet the requirement.

The petition authors demand the emphasis on social justice begins as soon as students arrive at Bard. The petition urges the creation of a “Language & Thinking Social Justice Orientation” during Bard’s “Language & Thinking” seminar that is required for all incoming freshman. The “Language & Thinking Social Justice Orientation” would focus on “an understanding of privilege, agency, oppression, microaggressions and how these operate in the residence hall, the classroom, and elsewhere at Bard; the ability to navigate conversations about issues of social justice with peers, faculty, and staff, and; an awareness of the importance of gender identity and pronouns.”

Bard’s “First-Year Seminar” is also targeting by the petition. The authors believe the works that are included in the seminar are “decidedly part of a dominant, so-called ‘Western’ canon.” To combat this, the petition creators suggest the first-year seminar should, instead, “emphasize topics of dominance, resistance, difference, and diversity” by adding additional works and discussing the social justice implications.

In addition to altering the required freshman curriculum, the petition proposes the creation of a new mandatory sophomore seminar explicitly for the purpose of addressing social justice issues. The “Sophomore Social Justice Seminar” would “give a solid foundation in the human experiences and critical theory encapsulated by social justice issues and the intersectionality between them.”

To secure the emphasis on social justice throughout the college, the creators of the petition want the Bard faculty to be retrained in order to teach about social justice. The petition hopes to create an orientation just for faculty, to give the faculty a “greater degree of confidence in having conversations about diversity; the recognition of and ability to address microaggressions in the classroom; the capacity to make their teaching relevant to particular social justice issues.”

To sign the petition, students must log in with their Bard usernames and passwords. This prevents individuals who do not attend Bard from joining the cause.