are incongruent with the values of “liberty and justice for all.”
In Teaching for Social Justice (2007), Maurianne Adams and
Lee Anne Bell state, “We believe social justice is both a
process and a goal.” The goal of social justice is to create equal
access and participation for all groups in society. This concept
engages all differences, while recognizing the elements of
power and privilege.
Social justice does not give one form of oppression priority
over another. It acknowledges the various forms of oppression,
their similarities and differences, and how they manifest. It
involves moving beyond comfort zones and making decisions
to change the status quo.
Creating Social Justice
Colleges and universities are prime environments for
students, faculty, and staff to develop the skills necessary to create a world more congruent with the values
of liberty and justice for all. Rather than simply diagnosing
and analyzing the current problems of injustice, senior student
affairs officers can prepare students to actually address the
To achieve both the process and the goal of social justice,
individuals and institutions must move through four stages:
awareness, knowledge, skills, and actions. This process—
familiar to those engaged in outcomes assessments,
organizational change, or cultural change—requires intentional
and deliberate action. It also requires an understanding of
dominant and subordinated group memberships and the
behaviors, attitudes, and feelings that accompany any given
Awareness: a greater consciousness of who you are
and all of your social identities. Examine how your
current behaviors, attitudes, feelings, and ideas align with
core values. What parts of your identities place you as a
member of the dominant group, affording you opportunities
and privileges taken for granted? What parts of your identities make you a member of the subordinated group, leaving
you feeling less than adequate and striving to fit in? How do
you participate on a daily basis in keeping the status quo
alive and well? What do you do on a daily basis to shift your
world and the world of others to be more congruent with the
values of social justice?
Knowledge: what you know and what you do not
know about yourself and others. What are the missing
pieces of your education? What do you know of the contributions of historically underrepresented groups? What do you
know of the current struggles of these groups? What would
equal access and an equitable society look like to people who
are members of the subordinated group? What does privilege
look like for the dominant group? What does internalized
oppression look like? How do the dynamics of oppression
manifest at the individual, group, and system/societal levels?
Answers to these questions provide the knowledge to move
toward a more socially just world.
Skills: engaging effectively across difference about
difference. Many of us participate in “work or school” diversity. We go to work or school with people who are different by
race, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, ability, or
nationality. Yet we grew up in and return home to monocultural experiences, leaving us unprepared to engage effectively
across cultures because we lack practice. The skills needed to
engage difference effectively include listening, asking, slowing
down, paying attention to process, and recognizing complex
human dynamics that occur at the intersections of difference.
Action: take steps to shift the status quo. A socially
just world cannot be created without this step. Good people
maintain the status quo by believing all they need to do is to
behave as good people. Good people can consciously and
unconsciously do harm if they are not clear about actions
needed for change.
A Socially Just Environment
Within higher education, a socially just environment is
one in which:
• All students learn and contribute to the best of
• All faculty, staff, and administrators teach, learn, and
serve to the best of their abilities.
• Curriculum, culture, and practices are both windows and
mirrors, allowing community members to see themselves and to view the rest of the world.
• Leaders teach and model the skills and personal awareness competencies to succeed in a pluralistic society.
Key Values of a Socially Just Campus
• Engagement, exploration, and examination of the
dynamics of difference
• Social justice