PART V: CHALLENGES FOR THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE
ASSIGNMENT 1: Social Change in Your Neighborhood
The preeminent leader of nonviolence, Mahatma Gandhi, once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” As you learn about the challenges that many minority groups faced—and continue to confront—in terms of prejudice, discrimination, oppression, and inequality, do not forget about the enormous amount of change and success achieved in the situations of minority groups throughout history. Although change is often slow and can be an uphill battle, it is not an impossible feat. But change can occur only if you first envision that it is possible. This assignment requires you to take up this challenge.
Pick a neighborhood that surrounds the area in which your school is located. Work in groups of two to three students, and research the area and the people who live in it. Although you can do some of this work on the Internet by searching census data or reading the local newspaper, the best way to do this is actually to go out into the neighborhood. Walk around, take photos, and talk to people on the street, and visit local stores and restaurants. Really try to learn something about the community.
Identify one problem you think should be addressed and the target population most affected by this issue. Make sure that your problem and/or population is somehow relevant to this text and this course. For example, is there a growing refugee population yet a lack of translators available at the local school to help these refugee parents talk to their children’s teachers? Is there a significant population of elderly people and no free transportation to local health clinics? Is there a group of low-income high school students who could benefit from free homework help? Has a local gang sprayed graffiti in a local park where kids play? Does the local supermarket not sell any ethnic food for a growing immigrant population?
Brainstorm possible ways to address the issue. Begin with some small-scale ideas (e.g., you will find three volunteers to agree to drive an elderly person to his or her weekly doctor’s appointment for one year) and then build from there. Decide what the best and most feasible plan is.
From your brainstorming session, develop a more specific proposal that deals with the problem you see in the community. A good proposal generally contains the following sections:
- Background: What is the issue and why is it an important problem that needs to be addressed? Include research evidence showing that this is a problem.
- Target population: Who, specifically, will your social change plan impact?
- Description of the plan of action: What are the overall goals of the plan?
- Methods for implementation, a.k.a. the “nuts and bolts”: How will you accomplish this plan? Consider the time it would take and the cost, resources, and people you need to make this plan happen.
- Challenges: What problems do you think you might face and what are some possible methods for overcoming these obstacles?
Consider sending a copy of your proposal to a local politician or presenting this proposal to local leaders at a public forum in your community.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Be ambitious! Actually follow through and create the change that you propose.
NOTE: This assignment was inspired by a lesson plan about social justice and urban planning developed by Kwanita Williams and posted on Cooper-Hewitt’s Educator’s Resource Center website: http://www.educatorresourcecenter.org/view_lesson.aspx?lesson_plan_id=716.
ASSIGNMENT 2: Working with Refugee Communities
In 2010, the United Nations (UN) reported that more than 43 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes due to conflict, persecution, and natural disaster. Of these, about 15.4 million are refugees. The United Nations distinguishes a refugee from other displaced persons because a refugee is someone who is forced out of his or her own country. The UN legally defines a refugee in the following way:
A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
Today, the majority of refugees are from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, although the UN notes that refugees have fled more than 100 countries. The United States currently hosts more than 260,000 refugees. This is a service learning assignment that requires you to learn about the refugees living in your community and to volunteer to help them.
Begin by learning something about refugees through a review of the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, which is available to the public on the Department of Homeland Security website (www.dhs.gov). These statistics provide an overview of the country of origin for legal permanent immigrants, naturalized citizens, refugees, and asylum seekers. They also give you a sense of which states these immigrants are currently residing in. Another valuable resource for information on refugees is the United States Association for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees website (www.unrefugees.org).
Write down some general information you learned about refugee populations in the United States. Also take note of any conflicts you didn’t realize were happening in the world and anything that might have surprised you about refugees that you discovered during the research process.
Next, start investigating the refugee population in your community and organizations for which you might be able to work. This may take a little more digging. There are national and international organizations that might provide you with useful local information, such as the International Rescue Committee (www.rescue.org)—which works in 22 cities in the United States—or the UN Volunteers website (www.unv.org). Most local communities have refugee and immigration services, so a simple Internet search will usually yield some results, although you can also contact local officials in your city or town, ask a librarian, or even look in a phone book. The search engine Volunteer Match (www.volunteermatch.org) might help, since it allows you to search your city for volunteer opportunities. Many organizations have websites and e-mail contact information, but because of limited financial resources, you may find only an address or phone number; so be prepared to visit or call a potential volunteer site.
Before contacting a local organization, research general types of volunteer services available in other communities. This will not only help you decide on the type of service you might want to partake in, but it will also provide you with some valuable information that you may want to share with your local organization. Such information might help the organization identify other ways to reach out to refugees in need. Some examples of different volunteer programs might include organizing something for World Refugee Day (June 20), advocating for refugees with your local politician, tutoring English to refugees with limited language proficiency, providing transportation for refugees to health clinics, or raising money for refugee programs. The opportunities are endless!
Contact the local refugee organization that interests you the most and schedule a meeting with the director of volunteer services. (If the organization does not have a specific volunteer coordinator, just try to meet with a full-time staff member.) Keep in mind that many nonprofit organizations are vastly understaffed, so this may require several phone calls or e-mails on your part before someone has the time to respond to you. Don’t give up!
When you finally meet with a member of the organization, demonstrate your commitment to working with this population by sharing what you have learned about refugees and by asking specific questions about refugees in your community.
Then, ask about volunteer opportunities with the organization. Keep in mind that many nonprofit organizations require their volunteers to fill out an application or even undergo a criminal background check; so again, don’t expect to start volunteering that day. Also, if the organization does not have an existing volunteer program, don’t give up there. Suggest some service that you could provide that you learned about during your research and see if the organization thinks such a service could help local refugees.
Commit to volunteering for at least 10 hours. Although it might be tempting to complete all this service in a weekend, try to spread it out over several weeks so you can really see how the organization functions over time. This will help you get to know the refugees in your community better and also the people who have dedicated their careers to helping those in need.
If you are feeling ambitious, try to get at least one more person to volunteer with you. Remember, your service, as well as your encouragement in getting others to serve, can be a transformative experience that helps solve real-world problems and enhance the lives of people living in your community.
ASSIGNMENT 3: Confronting Privilege, Power and Difference on Campus
Although undergraduate students come to campus with diverse backgrounds and varying degrees of power, privilege and difference, the very nature of higher education places them all in at least some position of privilege. Discussions of privilege can often make people feel uncomfortable; as if it is their fault that oppression or discrimination exists. But as Johnson notes (2001), “…belonging to a privileged category that has an oppressive relationship with another isn’t the same as being an oppressive person who behaves in oppressive ways” (41). Thus, privilege is about relationships between different social categories in a social system, rather than just being about individual people. Yet at the same time, individuals do have the capacity to participate in small steps towards social change. As Johnson (2001) suggests, we can “…shift the odds in favor of new paths…” and “…contribute to the slow evolution of entire cultures so that forms and values which support privilege begin to lose their ‘obvious’ legitimacy and normalcy…” (149-150).
One way to begin to recognize our own privilege is to understand the knowledge and resources that we each have as college students. College campuses have a long history of creating social change; consider just the 1960s, with the Students for a Democratic Society’s push against oppression, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee which fought against racism and promoted school integration, and the hundreds of anti-war groups across the U.S. that protested against the invasion in Cambodia and the Vietnam War. There are many ways for students to become socially and civically engaged. This assignment requires you to become more aware of your own privilege and gain a better understanding of social change organizations on campus. In the end, the goal is to challenge you to join an organization, or create your own, that promotes social change.
To help you recognize privilege and difference, start by creating your own diversity wheel. There are different models for this, but Allan Johnson (2001) uses one developed by Marilyn Loden and Judy Rosener (1991) that is particularly useful. Draw two concentric circles. The inner hub of the wheel consists of six characteristics that reflect our ascribed statuses: age, race, ethnicity, gender, physical ability, sexual orientation and qualities (such as height, left/right-handed). The outer ring includes things that tend to be considered achieved statuses: religion, marital status, parental status (i.e. are you a parent), social class indicators (i.e. education, occupation, income).
The wheel helps you describe who you are as an individual, albeit may not say a lot about you as a person. For example, it won’t say much about your character, your hopes or dreams, or your life ambitions. But imagine if you changed just one thing on that wheel. How will people start to perceive you differently? How might you see yourself differently? How might your opportunities change? What rewards may you now receive or lose? The point of the exercise, as Allan Johnson argues, is to see that the problem isn’t that we all are different, rather “…trouble is produced by a world organized in ways that encourage people to use difference to include or exclude, reward or punish, credit or discredit, elevate or oppression, value or devalue, leave alone or harass” (19)
Now that you have begun to think critically about your own identity, next you should start examining the school you attend. Begin by investigating the overall diversity of campus organizations. Locate a list of all campus clubs and organizations; most schools will provide this list right on their website, but you can also contact the Office of the Dean of Students or the Office of Student Activities to help you locate this information.
Work individually or in small groups to organize the list of organizations into different categories, such as religious, academic, social, political, service-oriented, or sports-related groups. What general trends can you describe? Does it seem like the majority of organizations have a social purpose? Do the organizations provide equal opportunities for male and female students? Do any of the organizations deal directly with issues related to race or inequality?
Pick an organization that you are not familiar with, but that you might consider joining. (Don’t be surprised if the organization you begin to look into is not currently active. As students come and go on a college campus, often the organization’s activities ebb and flow as well.) How long has the organization been around? Why might this organization be new or have a long history on campus? How many active members do they have? Which students seem to be part of the organization? Is the organization affiliated with a national organization? Does it cost money to join? Evaluate all of these things in terms of power, privilege and difference.
Try to investigate more deeply whether or not the organization tries to get its members to confront issues of privilege. If possible, attend an informational meeting or contact a member of the group to learn as much as you can. What projects or events did the organization work on last year? What are their goals for the upcoming year? Do these projects make students directly confront their own privilege (e.g. working in close contact with marginalized groups), indirectly confront their own privilege (e.g. raising money for a disenfranchised group), or not really address privilege at all (e.g. hosting a party for new members).
Prepare a brief report about what you learned. What are types of clubs and organizations are most prevalent on your campus? What did you learn about the one organization you investigated further? To what extent are privilege, power and difference confronted on your campus?
Consider joining an organization that is working to confront these difficult topics and promote social change. If you were unable to find one, consider starting your own organization for change on campus.
*This activity was inspired by the book Privilege, Power, and Difference by Allan Johnson.
Johnson, Allan. 2001. Privilege, Power and Difference. NY: McGraw-Hill.
Loden, Marilyn & Rosener, Judy. 1991. Workforce America: Managing Employee Diversity as a Vital Resource. Homewood, Ill.: Business One Irwin.
ASSIGNMENT 4: Web 2.0, Social Media, and Social Life
As cell phones, Smartphones, laptops and iPads have increasingly becoming a part of adolescent identity and youth culture, understandings of race, class, gender and sexuality are likely being taught and reinforced in cyberspace as much as they are in the physical environments of our life. Web 2.0 changed the Internet by providing applications that allowed users to interact, collaborate and share information through blogging, user-generated content platforms and social networking sites. Therefore, it would seem fitting that we appreciate the potential for progress that digital technology and social media can create, at the same time we continue to be critical of the problematic images and messages that exist in these spaces.
Begin by locating the latest data on digital technology and social media. The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project is a great place to start (www.pewinternet.org). The Pew Center provides a wealth of statistics on everything from social media use and cell phone ownership patterns to on-line dating preferences and sexting behavior among teens. Be able to provide an overview of the latest trends and behaviors for teens, emerging adults, and adults.
Consider national trends in terms of your own media use and consumption patterns. If Facebook is the platform of choice for your age group, is it also your favorite social media site? Are you part of the majority of Americans who have posted a photo or video on a website? Are you with the small but growing number of young adults who now use their cell phone as the primary way to view things on the Internet?
Pick two social media sites to compare. These can be ones that you use often or ones that you discovered are commonly used by people in your age group. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, or Instagram might be good places to start.
Next, try to find things on these sites that are intentionally geared towards challenging prejudice, discrimination and oppression. Use the exact same keywords on each site. Here are some concepts to consider, but feel free to use anything presented in the book: anti-racist, feminism, tolerance, diversity, counter-hegemonic, social change, civil rights.
Create two columns on a word document. Put the keyword at the top of the sheet and the two sites you visited at the top of each column. List the first 10 things that came up when you put that keyword in. (If there was less than 10 things, just include as many as you discovered.)
Explore the content that came up from your keyword search more thoroughly. Click on some of the links, read through the comments people wrote, examine the images associated with these things. What did you learn? Did you find anything that surprised you? How well does the title of the link match the content that exists on that webpage? Use your sociological imagination to analyze what you found.
Compare and contrast the two websites. When you used the same concept, did both yield similar results? Different results? Did one seem to have more corresponding links than the other? Describe what you found.
Then, consider what you learned about race, gender, class or sexuality in contemporary society. Did you find the information to be mainly academic? Personal or anecdotal? Did the information challenge things like racism or support things like stereotypes? Was the tone of the information hopeful, cynical, aggressive, or optimistic? Does one, both, or neither social media site provide a positive view of race, ethnicity, and diversity? Consider the information provided in the book as you think about these issues. Use your sociological imagination to write a short essay about representations of race, class, gender and sexuality on social media websites.