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University of Massachusetts, Amherst – Social Justice Education Program

Social Justice Education is an interdisciplinary program of study with a focus on social diversity and social justice education particularly as they apply to formal educational systems, kindergarten through higher education. The masters concentration focuses on reflective practice; the doctoral concentration focuses on research informed by reflective practice. Our goals are to generate knowledge about social justice education and to apply new knowledge to the design and delivery of effective social justice educational programs. The Social Justice Education Program boasts a strong intergroup dialogue component run by Ximena Zuniga.

Social Justice Education’s central focus is the preparation of professional educators, counselors, and change agents who are able to understand and work effectively with social justice issues in formal educational settings. It provides graduate degree programs of study for educational professionals who teach and practice at all levels of the educational system, kindergarten through college. We hope to attract a diverse group of educational professionals whose primary responsibilities include teaching, school guidance and counseling, the supervision or professional development of teachers or school counselors, teacher or counselor education, educational administration, student affairs programming, special education, advocacy programs, or college residential education.


The approaches to theory and practice taken by Social Justice Education are rooted in the civil rights social movements of the past forty years, within which concepts such as social justice, oppression and liberation are central categories for analyzing, evaluating and transforming interlocking systems of discriminatory institutional structures and cultural practices.

Students in social justice education study the inequities that people experience on the basis of their social group memberships, through systems of constraint and advantage reproduced through the social processes of exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence (Young, 1990). Social justice education pays attention to the resources that individuals, families, and communities bring to personal and social change and to the transformation of educational institutions and practices. Social justice education also pays careful attention to process in educational and structural interventions and practices. This attention to process includes balancing the emotional with the cognitive; acknowledging and supporting the personal while analyzing and intervening in social systems; attending to social relations within and among families, schools and communities; developing competencies in collaboration and interrelationships as well as education and advocacy.

The bodies of knowledge, research and practice that inform social justice education are interdisciplinary, drawn from anthropology; black and ethnic studies; cognitive, developmental and social psychology; education; gay, lesbian bisexual, and transgender studies; history; literature; Judaic and middle eastern studies; women’s studies; and sociology.

It includes the following areas:

  1. theories and research on socialization that inform the development of social identity and social group affiliations within families, schools, communities and other social institutions;
  2. the formation, maintenance, and interaction among in-groups and out-groups, and interventions that foster positive intergroup relations;
  3. prejudice and discrimination, the dynamics of power and privilege, and interlocking systems of oppression;
  4. forms of resistance and processes of empowerment and liberation created by individuals, families, and communities, and implemented within educational and other social systems;
  5. sociocultural and historical contexts for, and dynamics within and among the specific manifestations of oppression (antisemitism, ableism, classism, heterosexism, racism, sexism) in educational and other social systems;
  6. sociocultural and historical contexts for the Civil Rights Movement and other social liberation movements that found inspiration in it (such as the women’s liberation movement, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender rights movements, the disability rights movement, and liberation movements for other communities of color);
  7. the interaction of students and families within multicultural schools and communities;
  8. models for designing, delivering and evaluating curriculum-based social justice education;
  9. models for designing, delivering and evaluating system-based social justice interventions within or among families, schools, school systems, and communities
  10. social justice intervention strategies such as conflict resolution, collaboration, or advocacy.

These bodies of knowledge provide the basis for the core competencies included in the masters, CAGS and doctoral concentrations. (For further discussion of the approach taken to social justice education in our program, refer to M. Adams, L.A.Bell, P. Griffin (Eds.) (1997), Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook (New York, Routledge).

Resource Link: www.umass.edu/sje/

Contact Info: Maurianne Adams, Program Chair / 413-545-1194 / University of Massachusetts, Amherst MA 01003

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