What is Social Justice?

Find out if the study of justice and human rights is right for you

As societal challenges grow in impact and urgency, this UC multidisciplinary program is tailored for students who want to have an impact on the world. The College of Arts and Sciences has introduced a Bachelor of Arts in Social Justice major, a collaborative initiative amongst the arts and sciences. 

The program allows students to ‘create their own major,’ tailor-made for their professional and educational interests. In response to student demand, the major was created to expose students to a wide range of perspectives; critically examine diverse and transnational systems of oppression such as child labor or police brutality; and explore how humans relate and intersect with one another.

Headshot of Guy-Lucien Whembolua

Guy-Lucien Whembolua. Photo/UC Research Directory.

You may wonder, “Why study social justice?” Associate professor and Africana studies undergraduate director Guy Whembolua has an answer.

“For students to be able to mix and match all of these different departments and fields is really an asset, and especially for students who know that they that they want to be involved in social justice in some form in the future,” said Whembolua.

Students will spend time studying contemporary and past emancipatory movements like the '60s Civil Rights Movement. Throughout the program, students will come to understand sources of oppression and marginalization. Additionally, students dive through specific challenges, such as housing inequality, racial inequities and scarcity of resources to figure out the roots of these issues as well. They will gain the necessary skills to recognize injustices and disparaging circumstances in any field they find themselves in.

“With social justice, it’s not like any good liberal arts degree. You can literally define where you want to be,” said Whembolua. 

Take it from a student

Headshot of Social Justice student, Mia Morales

Mia Morales. Photo/Provided.

Mia Morales is a fourth-year social justice and political science major, and her experience through the program has been eventful for her. However, her drive for advocacy and change began when she was a young girl.

“My elementary school had 500 students, and I was one of nine Black students and the only Afro-Latina. Being one of a few led me to face high levels of scrutiny from my peers, teachers, and administrators, much of which was based on ill-founded prejudice,” said Morales. “By the time I got to high school, I was determined to improve the culture within my community and worked hard to make systemic changes. I carried this passion with me into college, and it will follow me for the rest of my life.” 

Armed with that passion, she enrolled at UC as a political science major. However, there was only a social justice minor at the time. 

“By the time I enrolled as a freshman, UC had a social justice minor and it eventually added a social justice major! I am now majoring in social justice along with my original major of political science and am proud to be one of the first cohorts to earn this degree.” 

Students are encouraged to take their instruction to communities to identify and combat barriers to justice. Recently, Morales co-founded Future Black Leaders Inc., a national nonprofit which “aims to increase the educational attainment within the Black community by creating an interconnected network,”. The initiative completes this through programming and networking throughout the country.

“Much of the insight that I have gained through my degree has inspired me to make a difference on such a large scale. Learning the true American history and gaining awareness on the origin of our modern inequitable systems has helped me create well-informed solutions to a complex problem," Morales said.

“The Social Justice major was a lot more flexible than I thought it would be, which made it a perfect complement to my political science degree and minors in Spanish; Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies; and Africana Studies. I am so thankful for the opportunity to enroll in this program and am proud to be earning a degree in social justice.”

Notable Classes

The major’s required coursework is not limited to only the offerings of the College of Arts and Sciences but across the other colleges of UC. Students will enroll in courses related to justice, oppression, and social change. The coursework includes the foundational core areas that cover an introduction to a student’s selected specialty. In line with the major’s breadth of exposure, students will also study in the cluster areas of activism, social change, and power and identity.

Morales says she found multiple courses noteworthy, like Black Women Writers, taught by assistant professor Simone Savannah, and African American Social and Political Thought, taught by assistant professor Felicia Denaud. “Dr. Savannah was the first teacher/professor that I had ever had who was a Black woman, which was impactful within itself. Additionally, this class made me feel seen and understood in a way I had never felt before,” said Morales.

“I absolutely loved [Denaud’s] class. It was so empowering to see the history of Black-activist thought, much of which I had adopted myself. This is also the class where I met my research mentor, Felicia Denaud, who brought me on to research the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s impact during the Civil Rights Movement.”

Career and graduate possibilities

To fulfill their missions, including those of social responsibility, many employers, both governmental and non-governmental, currently seek graduates who have expertise and are enthusiastic about social justice. Graduates of this major can pursue many different careers. A few examples include:

  • Advocate

  • Certified 

  • Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) 

  • Community Health Worker 

  • Community Specialist 

  • Government Program Specialist 

  • Lawyer 

  • Mental Health Counselor 

  • Political Analyst 

  • Politician 

  • Public Administrator 

  • Social Services Director

However, the program will prepare students for multiple graduate degrees. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the program, students are well equipped for work in multiple industries, such as business, medicine, advocacy and law. Students develop high-level critical thinking, communication, reading, writing and analytical skills.

Featured image at top of  multiple ethnicites. Photo/Saud Ansari/iStock

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By Serigne Thiam

Student Journalist, A&S Marketing and Communication

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