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2021 Early Launch Students Share Diversity and Social Justice Reflections

By Youssef Farhat

With interactive online courses created just for incoming first-year students, the Early Launch program provides an engaging learning community that enhances students' academic success. Launched in 2020, it is designed to ease their transition to the collegiate learning experience during the summer and accelerate their progress toward earning their degree by fulfilling requirements for the Common Academic Program (CAP) or their major. 

Introduction to Comparative Politics was offered through the 2021 Early Launch program fulfilling the CAP Diversity and Social Justice (DSJ) component. Over eight weeks, an inspiring group of six students reflected on how COVID-19 presented itself as a pandemic bringing new realities and challenges to the world we’ve always known, and how nations, states, leaders and communities rushed to respond to the crisis in varying ways—some doing better than others. 

Through varying activities including reflections, simulations, movie screenings and six case studies, we collectively explored the basic institutions of power–states, regimes, societies, markets–and how they shape systems of oppression or create conditions to improve communities and people’s capabilities. We focused on a range of forms of political participation, cultures, and identity challenges shaping various societies through a comparative lens yet an examination of our own bias and perspective.

It is often easy to define and identify an artifact perhaps that represents a bad society. But how can we centralize and define what is good? One classroom activity invited us to do so utilizing a visual, whether an image, a painting, or video screenshots. victoria-dsj-activity.jpegVictoria Rivera took this photo and shared its story. “A few summers ago I was working with the Press office of the Senate of Puerto Rico and I got to experience what some of these senators were currently doing for the country. Since my mother is a person who is very involved with the politicians here on the island, I also got to experience some opportunities and encounters with her as well. The picture that I chose is one I took of the mayor of Canovanas. The mayor had a project in which she wanted to restore a section in Canovanas in order to provide a place to the residents of the city, somewhere they could go to be one with nature. This section that she chose was going to be transformed into a parking lot and she wanted to conserve this piece of nature especially for her residents. To me, a good citizen is a citizen that fights for what is right and just. And, a good society is a group of citizens who work hand in hand to help their community in many different ways, and with their actions, they make the world a better place.” 

Ikeyaira Metcalf found inspiration in The Square, a documentary capturing the Egyptian revolts. Ikeyaira says “I think it’s different when you see something and it’s hypothetical or fictional, but to watch in real-time people really fighting against their government and fighting for change was inspiring. The story was so powerful because you saw how even though people were being abused and hurt they still went out there everyday to fight back. Because of this documentary and after being in this class, I will leave being more grateful for the rights that I have and will continue to exercise them because not all people in this world have them.”

“The documentary really put things into perspective. It really opened my eyes to why things are the way they are; why things take so long to change. From now on, I want to stay more informed on social movements and their history” says Elizabeth Bornhorst who was also motivated by the weekly news digests. “I really liked the weekly news updates, and sitting down each week just to check in and see what's happening in the world made me feel really informed. It's something I'm definitely going to keep doing.”

American Factory resonated the most with Zachary Mackewicz. “The difference in the working cultures between the U.S. and China was interesting to explore. It impacted my understanding of comparative politics. It also showed me that if you stand up against an oppressive force, you can attempt to make great changes. One change that I will make going forward is to always stand up for what I believe in.”

“Too many times when people are measuring whether or not a certain community is good, they only look at the economic situation and GDP, and not if the people enjoy the quality of life there.” Doughnut Economics inspired Brynn Shoup-Hill because “I never really enjoyed learning economics in any of my previous classes, and this model shows all of the things our societies need to be working towards including environmental and social action, in order to achieve equality, prosperity and citizens' well-being.”  

Reflecting on The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Grace Valentine underscores how critical it is to never give up and continue our work to better the society, despite all the violence and political turmoil. “It impacted my understanding of comparative politics because it goes to show how important it is to look beyond the statistics and understand how communities respond to issues internally in light of the struggles they are facing.” 

With a responsibility to promote the dignity, rights and responsibilities of all persons and peoples, the Common Academic Program contributes to diversity learning efforts, and does so in a scaffolded way throughout its curriculum and components, but in a more focused way through the Diversity and Social Justice (DSJ) component.

Through these short reflections, the 2021 Early Launch students highlight not only the value of DSJ learning at large, but the importance of engaging various dimensions of diversity and social justice including intersectionality, bias, and intercultural competence.

 


Youssef Farhat, CAP Diversity and Social Justice (DSJ) Coordinator, and Lecturer in the Department of Political Science.

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