It’s no secret that American River College is a thoroughly diverse campus. As ARC continues to become more diverse, social justice is becoming more of an interest and concern among students. Recently, ARC became the first in the Los Rios Community College District to offer Social Justice Studies courses and students now have the option of majoring in social justice and acquiring degrees in the field.
Pam Chao, department chair of sociology, said ARC now offers two separate social justice degrees. The first focuses on Race and Ethnicity Studies and the second focuses on Women, Gender and LGBTQ Studies. Both of these Associate Degree for Transfer (AA-T) degrees prepare students to transfer into a variety of California State University major programs.
According to Chao, social justice is about all groups in a society working to create a physically and psychologically safe environment for all its members. Chao defines social justice as striving to make distribution of resources equitable to every individual.
“Social justice is really about society, and who is othered and who belongs, and how that plays out,” Chao said. “That has an impact in just about every realm of our lives. It’s a way of using a lens and a map to navigate the world around you.”
Dennis Lee, English professor and author of the new social justice program at ARC, said in an email interview with the Current that the program was written because many students at ARC have expressed interest in social justice.
“Activities in our UNITE and Pride Centers and other programs such as our UndocuScholar Resource Connection have increased awareness on our campus about social justice issues,” Lee wrote.
He also said that smaller degree programs such as African American Studies, Ethnic Studies and Queer Studies at CSUs do not have Associate Degree for Transfer programs at the community college level. This has made it more difficult for community college students to transfer to CSUs into social justice degree programs, Lee said.
“The Social Justice Studies Transfer degrees were designed to make it easier for students to transfer into smaller programs in these areas and still receive the benefits of a transfer degree program at the CSU [level],” Lee wrote.
According to Chao, there are now two core Social Justice Studies courses offered at ARC, SJS 300, Introduction to Social Justice Studies, and SJS 310, Introduction to LGBTQ Studies.
Chao said SJS 300 will primarily focus on introducing students to the foundations of social justice and understanding the social courses of action that create and resist brutality.
The course will also explore how creating and breaking down asymmetrical power relations are connected to and influence social structures, institutional processes and culture.
Chao explained treating people the same way is not always fair, and undoing these power relations can create ways for people to feel more included in society.
“We need to provide students with what they need to create a common success standard. We have to acknowledge the differences and how those differences attach to power,” Chao said.
According to Chao, both SJS degrees consist of 60 units and include sociology, psychology, English literature, political science, anthropology, journalism, history, humanities and statistics courses.
Now that these degree programs are transferable to CSUs, students can complete graduate degrees in related fields. Chao said students with degrees in the social justice field often continue into careers within activism, community organization, political campaigning, human rights, religious organization, international agency, lobbying and mediation.
Chao said this program is also a great entryway for students wanting a career in law, law enforcement, social work, clinical psychology, social sciences, politics, business, education or public policy.
Chao said understanding principles of social justice is important for any career field. Social justice impacts the way people navigate their careers because it’s about restructuring their concept of how individuals should be treated.
According to Scott Crow, ARC’s public information officer, the Los Rios Board of Trustees approved and added a commitment to social justice and equity to its new vision and values, since students are showing such a strong interest in this area. Crow wrote adding this commitment to the mission statement was approved back in March of 2017.
“I think there’s an interest because this speaks to the needs that people have in day-to-day life. Social justice is about how we create that inclusion,” Chao said.
In addition, Chao said that all other Los Rios Community Colleges are working on adding social justice degree programs and SJS courses. According to Chao, it’s all part of moving forward as a community and promoting equity on all of our campuses.
“For us as a society we tend to be much more individualistic, and we tend to leave things to individuals to solve, or [treat] things [as] isolated incidents when they are actually systemic,” Chao said. “You as an individual can always act, but when the systemic nature is recognized and people unite, then it’s a much more powerful action that occurs.”