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New department will champion social justice

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Sebastian Ibarra
Staff Writer

A group of University of La Verne faculty members from multiple departments have pushed for the expansion of current social justice courses and the creation of a social justice and solidarity studies department on campus.

The proposed interdisciplinary department is set to stay true to the University’s commitment to the core value of cultural competency and critical thinking by ensuring that students obtain the tools necessary to challenge ignorance, hate and systemic inequalities, according to the Social Justice and Solidarity Studies Department Proposal Draft.

“When I think about the timing of this particular department and particular minor, there was no doubt in my mind that this had to happen,” Gyasmine George-Williams, assistant professor of education and human development, said.

Roy Kwon, assistant provost of undergraduate programs, said that there is already a Latinx minor offered at the University. Kwon said that as a part of that minor there are a number of courses taught by faculty in history, political science, sociology and philosophy. He said that now the University is establishing additional minors and majors in Black studies, cultural studies, sustainability studies and Latinx studies. All will be under the larger interdisciplinary social justice and solidarity department.

“A part of it had to do with what happened over the summer and the spring with the events that happened nationally,” Raúl Pérez, assistant professor of sociology, said.

Pérez said that these protests overlapped with efforts already under way at La Verne to develop the ethnic studies programs at the University. He said that the individual programs like Black and Latinx studies at La Verne have been isolated programs.

“These issues of social justice and inequity really became a flashpoint for people at La Verne to think about how to be more deliberate in how we are teaching students these issues of social justice and inequity,” Pérez said.

George-Williams, who is also a La Verne alumna, said that this new department is something whose time has come. She said that sheltering in place because of the pandemic caused the public to take a pause and become more aware of events taking place, specifically those that have always taken place but have gone unnoticed.

“We headed to push forward with this and to have the support of the provost and the president, I think the timing was a beautiful time for us to create it,” George-Williams said. “With everything going on with regard to how quarantine and issues in society have affected students of color the last few years there was a need for a safe space. Once we found out that there were other faculty and staff that had this in their heart too, we realized that this has to happen now.”

Kwon said that there was discussion about the need for this type of program for a while.

“What gave us more incentive is everything going on in our world right now,” Kwon said.

Richard Rose, professor of religion and philosophy, said that global crises in terms of the environment, global warming, and issues of sustainability were big motivators to propose sustainability studies as part of the new department.

Elaine Padilla, associate professor of philosophy and religion, said that several minors that are currently offered at La Verne have no home and that has led them to be neglected. She said that the timing of the social justice and solidarity department was due to faculty agreeing that it would be beneficial to have all of the related social justice majors and minors in one place.

Pérez said the social justice and solidarity studies department would be an interdisciplinary program that will have courses from Latinx, Black, gender and sustainability Studies. Students would take courses in all these different areas and have the opportunity to specialize in a particular area.

George-Williams offered an example of what types of classes one of these majors or minors would entail. She said both she and Thomas Allison, assistant professor of legal studies, built the Black studies minor that will eventually turn into a major. As of now, the Black studies minor consists of 28 units and contains eight classes: The Black Experience in the United States, African American Liberation Theology, Race and Law, Education as a Civil Right, Shaping Community Consciousness, Black and African American Practices of Social Agency and Activism, Black Economics, and Learning through Community Service: Black and African American Experience.

“These were classes that faculty had a background and experience in,” George-Williams said.

Kwon said he hopes the new department will attract many different students from many different career paths. He said that employers will be looking for culturally competent individuals during the hiring process. As an example, he said a student that has a major in business and a minor in one of the social justice and solidarity studies courses would look very attractive to employers.

“The great thing about the majors and minors we are proposing is that you can either major or minor in it,” Kwon said. “All majors could use a social justice minor. I think it is going to look really appealing for employers.”

All courses offered in social justice and solidarity studies will be designated as La Verne Experience, or LVE courses. And all students at the University will be required to take social justice and solidarity studies courses as a part of their general education requirements, according to the draft proposal.

“Students don’t tend to enroll in social justice courses offered currently at La Verne,” Kwon said. “They tend to focus on their major courses. Making these courses requirements, this means that all students will receive some type of diversity, equity, or social justice training before they graduate. Employers are going to want culturally competent and well trained students.”

Pérez said that throughout the country there are colleges and universities that have majors or programs that emphasize issues of equity and inequality.

“But not with the exact same program,” Perez said. “Occidental College has a critical theory and social justice program. The Cal State University system over the summer said social justice studies courses would be a requirement for GE curriculum as well as ethnic studies courses,” Pérez said.

“The Social Justice and Solidarity Studies proposal is a go and it will be a stand alone department. That is the plan so far,” George-Williams said.

Sebastian Ibarra can be reached at sebastian.ibarra@laverne.edu.

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