Monday, January 3, 2011

Learning About Social Justice

As we begin our three week journey together, it is important to understand that our task is one that is challenging for a variety of reasons.  During the course, you will be presented with a lot of information.  You will learn about some things that you have never studied before.  It can be difficult to process so much new information.  This is true in general, of course, but it has special import for a class dealing with social justice and oppression.  Those from targeted social groups may find studying this material painful as you learn about the history of oppression that has been visited upon members of your social group.  Those from dominant groups may feel guilt, shame or denial as they study about the experiences of privileged people like themselves. 

Over the next three weeks, I urge you to process the emotions that come up for you as you cover this often challenging material.  Your blogs are a great place to do this.  Chances are that other students are feeling similar emotions bubble to the surface for them as well.  While there is one required blog each day usually on a specific topic, I also encourage you to write other blogs that may be more personal or "emotional" in nature, or more reflective or therapeutic.  So what are some tips I would give for effective learning about this stuff?  Here are a few ideas that come to mind:

- Taker risks and leave your comfort zone.  One of the reasons why social injustice thrives is because people like to stay in their comfort zones and not take any risks.  Confronting oppression is inherently risky.  It does require you to take risks.  I understand that this can be scary.  That is why I, the TA, and your fellow students are here to support you in your process.

- Do not personalize.  Remember that we are talking about institutions and systemic patterns of oppression and discrimination.  While guilt is an understandable emotion for dominant group members to experience when learning about social injustice, it is not, ultimately, a productive or helpful emotion.  It is easy to get stuck and mired in guilt and not move forward.  Remember, you are responsible for yourself and your own actions, not those of your entire social group.

- Listen, with compassion.  Be receptive to others' points of views.  Feel free to challenge others, but do so respectfully.  If you really like or appreciate what someone has said or written, let them know!

- When you are a member of the dominant (oppressor) group, allow members of targeted (oppressed) groups to feel anger about the oppression that they and members of their social group historically or currently endure.  Do not minimized, deny or appropriate other people's experiences of oppression. Also, remember that it is not the responsibility or duty of oppressed people to educate you. 

- When you are a member of the targeted or oppressed group, remember that members of dominant groups can and will make mistakes.  Allow room for their path of understanding.  This does not mean not challenging oppressive views or behaviors, but rather understanding how their privilege has prevented them from seeing the situation clearly.

- Self-care! Take good care of yourself while engaged in this learning process.  Strive for compassion for yourself and compassion for your fellow co-students.  Approach the material with an open mind.

That's all for now. I will be posting another handout on underlying assumptions in social justice education in a minute, and then have another post on today's assignments later today. Good luck with your first day and welcome to the course!

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