Justice is the concept of fairness. Social justice is fairness as it manifests in society. That includes fairness in healthcare, employment, housing, education and other areas of society. Learn what social justice means in different contexts and how it can be promoted and claimed.
Related topics: United Nations | Humanitarian Action | Diversity and Inclusion | Refugees and Migration | Social Justice | International Law | Peace and Conflict | Sustainable Development | Global Health | Human Rights
It’s hard to avoid the phrase “social justice.” You can hear it referred to in a variety of spaces, like on the internet, on the news, and in corporate boardrooms. It’s often used in conjunction with human rights, but there’s a slight difference between the two. While human rights refer to the basics that every person deserves, social justice focuses on fairness, equality, and distribution. Human rights can exist without social justice, but social justice can’t exist without human rights. Social justice applies to every area of society from healthcare to housing to employment. Why is social justice worth learning about?
Why you should take a course in social justice
You have an idea of what social justice is, but why should you take a course on the topic? There are four main reasons:
#1: You’ll learn how factors like race, gender, and sexual identity affect society and how to talk about them
Society does not treat everyone the same. Aspects of a person’s identity – like their race, gender, and sexuality – all have an impact on the kinds of privileges and obstacles they may face in the world. After taking a social justice course, you’ll have a much deeper understanding of how society works, including how systems are set up to advantage or disadvantage certain populations. You’ll also learn the vocabulary of social justice and how this field talks about things like activism, intersectionality, history, and so on. The term “social justice” is prevalent these days, but many people don’t fully understand what it entails. When you take your first social justice course, you’ll have a solid framework for conversations, more advanced classes, and activism.
#2: You’ll be exposed to interdisciplinary perspectives
Because “social justice” is a broad term, there’s a wide variety of social justice courses you could take. Here are a handful of examples and where the courses are taught:
- Music and Social Action – Harvard University
- Understanding Violence Against Women: Myths and Realities – University of Strathclyde
- Love As a Force For Social Justice – Stanford University
- Diversity and Social Justice in Social Work – University of Michigan
- Health Care For All – University of Massachusetts
Learning about social justice from a range of perspectives is essential to getting a full picture of the world. You’ll quickly see how social justice principles can apply everywhere and how frameworks like politics, law, history, and anthropology inform social justice.
#3: You’ll understand more about social justice solutions
Why take courses in Social Justice?
When you’re educated on the factors at play in social justice, the vocabulary, and the interdisciplinary perspectives, you’re much better equipped to find solutions. The first step is understanding what the problems are on a deeper level. Anyone who watches or reads the news can see things aren’t great in the world, but few can articulate why or what needs to happen to improve things. A social justice course helps provide a solid foundation on the what and why of what’s going on. This information allows you to examine effective solutions based on facts as opposed to guesses or assumptions. If you’re considering a career in any kind of social justice work, knowing how to sort through solutions is very important.
#4. Even if you don’t go into a social justice career, a course broadens your perspective and empathy
Social justice courses aren’t just for people intending to go into social justice or human rights work. Social justice educators understand this, which is why it’s becoming more common for teachers to implement a social justice framework into their curriculum. A course provides perspectives you may have never encountered before, broadening your view of the world and how society works. Hearing about injustice and how it affects people also encourages empathy. Empathy, along with the skills learned in social justice courses (such as critical thinking, research, and communication), is useful in any career, so you’ll never feel as if you’re wasting time in a social justice course.
Social justice courses: a good investment for everyone
When you take a social justice course, you’ll invest at least your time, if not also your money. It’s worth it because these courses earn you more than a few credits. You’ll gain an understanding of how society views race, gender, sexuality, and class through interdisciplinary frameworks like history, law, politics, and more. With this foundation of knowledge, you’re much better equipped to study solutions to problems like poverty and discrimination. If nothing else, you’ll gain more familiarity with the intersectional nature of social justice, which can fuel empathy. Even if you don’t end up in a career specifically about social justice, you can bring your knowledge to whatever field you find yourself in.
Top 5 Social Justice Courses You Can Audit for Free
All people deserve equal opportunities and access to rights like decent housing, an education, food and clean water, and healthcare. People shouldn’t face discrimination based on characteristics like ethnicity or gender. For anyone interested in social justice, there’s a myriad of ways to get involved. First, it’s important to understand social justice and gain some essential skills. Here are five social justice courses you can audit for free:
Time to complete: 6 weeks (about 28 hours total)
This course examines love (defined as compassion and kindness) as a force for social justice action. A variety of perspectives on love will be discussed, such as biological, religious, psychological, and social perspectives. Topics include the different types of love, non-violent communication, love as a concept of religious and ethical beliefs, love in action, and more. By the course’s end, students will understand the importance of love in creating community, connection, and societies that function well. With 1-5 hours of work per week, you can expect to complete the course in about 6 weeks.
University of California Santa Cruz
Time to complete: 4 weeks (about 8 hours)
Adapted from Distinguished Professor Bettina Aptheker’s course “Feminism and Social Justice,” this course offers a broad definition of feminism. It frames three events in the history of social justice and feminism: the Empire Zinc strike in 1951, the 1971-1972 trial of Angela Davis, and the #metoo movement. The Empire Zinc strike in southwestern New Mexico was a response to discrimination against Mexican-American workers. Students will learn what happened and watch the controversial 1954 film about the strike called “Salt of the Earth.” In the module about the arrest and trial of Angela Davis, Dr. Apetheker relates her personal experience of this history. In the last module on the #metoo movement, students learn about the causes, outcomes, and challenges. With a weekly hourly commitment of 1-3 hours, you can complete the course in 4 weeks.
Time to complete: 4 weeks (4-5 hours per week)
What role does writing play in social justice? Writing about personal, social, and political issues has the power to change people’s minds, develop solutions to major problems, and encourage more engagement in society. In this course, students will learn how writing and word choices in different genres can reach an audience and make an impact on a personal, local, national, and even global scale. Students will learn to keep a journal to identify meaningful issues and ideas. They’ll also learn how to write effective, diplomatic letters to public officials, develop well-rounded opinion articles, and develop and maintain a blog or even a podcast to get your writing to a bigger audience. There are example readings that provide models of persuasive genres. No prerequisites are required. With the free audit track, you get limited access to course materials.
University of Michigan
Time to complete: 4 weeks (3 hours per week)
Women and minorities have been historically erased in discussions of public art. In this course, students will learn how art can address social justice, gender equality, and historical injustices. The form, content, and context of public monuments will be examined through a social justice lens. At the course’s conclusion, students will identify and interpret art-based social justice projects in media. Students will be equipped to discuss the role of gender bias in historical public art, develop creative strategies for responding, and understand women’s role in public visual and historical culture. Visual and performance artist Melanie Manos teaches the course. The course is a good choice for anyone interested in the connection between art and social justice. With basic access (limited to 6 weeks), you can join this 4-week course for free.
University of Michigan
Time to complete: 4 weeks (12 hours total)
This course explores how social workers in the US participate in creating change and supporting individuals, families, and communities. Students learn about social work as a career, including its history, the different roles social workers fill, the themes that frame social work practice, and current challenges in the profession. From a social justice perspective, students also consider how to improve systems. “Social Work Practice” can be taken on its own or as part of the Social Work: Practice, Policy, and Research MasterTrack Certificate Program. The course takes 4 weeks with 3 hours of study per week.