Teaching and Modeling Social Justice

Posted on: August 8th, 2012
“If one has knowledge, he shares it with the one who does not possess it.” These words from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola represent part of the paradigm evident in best practices of teaching at Loyola University Chicago. The idea of sharing knowledge is evident in our efforts to cultivate a recognition and commitment to social justice among our students.

One of the challenges facing university faculty regarding teaching issues of social justice is that it is difficult to precisely define and therefore difficult to teach. Part of the mission of the Faculty Center for Ignatian Pedagogy is to provide a forum where faculty can share their teaching methods, ideas, and strategies for helping students understand the many complex situations that lead to social injustice.  There are a number of strategies faculty have shared in the various fora. One suggestion for an introductory lesson was to poll the class and have them define social justice (or injustice) and provide some examples. Invariably, students have wide and diverse views that broaden the perspective of their classmates. Some faculty have students select several topics to focus on during the semester; group projects, research and community outreach projects frequently result from this strategy. Other faculty have shared their extensive reading lists and the assignments they require to help students broaden their understanding.

Many faculty state that the real challenge is helping students move from awareness to action. By working with campus units, as the Center for Experiential Learning, faculty are able to encourage students to move from a classroom understanding of social justice to committed action and challenging the status quo.  By implementing campus and community partnerships that encourage action, faculty act as role models for their students. The experience of working for social justice as part of a class, with the faculty member as guide, helps students build a relationship between knowledge and commitment.

Part of leading an extraordinary life involves a commitment to others, especially those who are underprivileged and underrepresented. The Loyola promise to prepare students for being extraordinary relies on the university’s commitment to social justice. The willingness of faculty to share their success in moving students toward this end is certainly an extension of St. Ignatius’ challenge: to share what we know “with the one who does not possess it.”
Carol Scheidenhelm, Ph.D.
Co-Director, Faculty Center for Ignatian Pedagogy

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