In response to a growing number of students interested in careers focused on social justice and civic engagement, Dominican University of California is adding a new degree program in social justice this fall.
The Social Justice major will examine the links between well-being, social justice, and diverse worldviews and teach students to analyze social injustices and work toward positive social change. The major will integrate coursework, faculty expertise, and practical experience and exposure gained through engagement with community partners.
Central to the new major will be community partnerships developed through Dominican’s 16-year-old Service-Learning program.
Service-Learning is an educational approach that integrates meaningful community engagement with academic studies emphasizing critical reflection and analysis. Service-Learning embraces the principles of reciprocity between all parties––the community partners are co-educators, faculty and students are engaged citizens, and the University becomes an active member of the community.
In the 2018/19 academic year, Dominican offered 27 service-learning courses in which more than 420 students served more than 14,700 hours in the community. Community partners include Canal Alliance, Ritter Center, Rotacare Clinic, Catholic Charities Canal Family Support Kids Club, San Rafael District Schools, Next Generation Scholars, Young Moms Marin, Performing Stars of Marin, Marin Community Clinic Health Hubs, and Marin Shakespeare Company.
The new major, which is grounded in existing religion and philosophy courses, embeds the core classes from a two-year-old minor in Community Action and Social Change and a newer minor in Performing Arts and Social Change.
“Our new major is grounded in programming with a strong record of implementing meaningful faculty development, cultivating transformative partnerships, and implementing and assessing civic learning goals,” says Laura Stivers, Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Education.
New curriculum changes being implemented by the University in fall 2019 will give students more flexibility to double major, providing more opportunity for students who are in professional majors to expand their educational experience.
“One of our goals for adopting critical pedagogies and making community engagement central to the major is our desire for the major to be even more accessible and relevant to our increasingly diverse student population,” says Julia van der Ryn, Executive Director of Dominican’s Center for University Partnerships and Community Engagement.
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At the beginning of the major, students will study principles of community engagement and social responsibility and apply learning in social contexts through the “Theory and Practices: Community Action and Social Change” foundational course. An important focus and learning outcome is the valuing of community voice and knowledge.
Toward the end of the major, after students have experience working within the community and have gained a solid foundation in religious and philosophical perspectives related to social justice, the “Community Engaged Research Methods” course will lay the foundation for students to complete their community-engaged capstone. This culminating research project, guided by a faculty mentor, will address a current issue faced in the local community.
The University recently received a $30,000 grant from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Religion to fund faculty development in service-learning and social justice pedagogies, deepen the role of community partners as co-educators, and connect the social justice courses to particular needs in the Marin community and beyond.