“Doing Justice”

Posted on: March 11th, 2015

Deborah Baskin, of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, discusses what it means to “do justice.”


How we “do justice” is an indicator of our moral health. And, in today’s United States, how we “do justice” is too often an indicator of our poor moral health. This is certainly apparent in our interactions with the most vulnerable members of our society: justice-system involved juveniles, the mentally ill, and those ravaged by substance abuse, maltreatment, and exposure to violence. What many of these individuals share is a web of societal structures and cultural practices that ensnare them, leaving few opportunities to become free. As an academic sociologist, I have spent my career teaching students how to use their “sociological imaginations” (C.W. Mills) so as to remove themselves from their own personal experiences and better understand how personal problems– which is how we often see the plight of the vulnerable—are actually society’s ills.


I use several different techniques so as to develop our students’ sociological imaginations. First, I try to gauge their exposure to the variety of experiences that comprise our societal life. Usually, this means visually and aurally introducing them to movies, podcasts, and news sources such as People Like Us, Fruitvale Station, Lost Children of Rockdale County, Waiting for Superman, Bowling for Columbine, Central Park Five, Broken on All Sides, Girlhood, This American Life: Harper High, The Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, among others. I combine these materials with readings of empirical research and with “envisioning” exercises in which students propose efficacious, evidence-based, and humane approaches to some of society’s seemingly intransigent problems. Second, I require students to apply theories covered in classes to their everyday life experiences. They practice uncovering cultural or subcultural norms and values while they are engaging with the mass media, in conversations with family, friends, and strangers, in walking the streets, and while viewing kiosk signs, billboards, and the physical and social aspects of the streets.


Importantly, and in each class, I ask students to explore what justice means, to examine whether it really means crime control or whether due process and reintegration are more just. I ask them to reflect on whether we need an absolute definition or whether it can change relative to time and space. I also raise the question as to whether justice must be coupled with democracy, a republican form of government, under capitalism, or whether it can thrive in other contexts. And, at Loyola, I ask them to reflect on the role that faith plays in their definitions, practices, and visions of justice.


I engage in these practices with the knowledge that this generation of students may contain our greatest hope for social justice, fairness, and tolerance. As such, we need to support their efforts to become global citizens by building strong bridges that unite us across communities, cultures, and around the globe.

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