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  • A Time and a Place:Social Justice in a Doctoral Program
  • Jeffery L. Wilson (bio) and Katrina A. Meyer (bio)

In recent years, change has become a common catch phrase. The mantra of change ushered in America's first African American president and reawakened within Americans a call to social and civic awareness as well as engagement not seen since the 1960s and 1970s. Key constituents to the change movement were college students whose experiences in higher education helped develop good citizenship which requires an awareness of and an affinity for social justice issues (Mayhew & Fernández, 2007).

The purpose of this research was to better understand what doctoral students believe social justice is, where and when they learned about it, and how a doctoral program in higher and adult education that includes student affairs professionals can improve its curricula and pedagogical choices. The guiding research question was: Where and how do doctoral students learn about social justice?

Review of the Literature

Development of Competent Student Affairs Professionals

For some academic programs, determining what skill sets or competencies are necessary for graduates who are about to enter the workforce is a continuing process. Student affairs has debated the issue over core competencies for years (Sandeen & Barr, 2006). As a result, graduate programs that seek to prepare individuals to work in a college setting are attentive to workforce demands (Cuyjet, Longwell-Grice, & Molina, 2009) and The Council for the Advancement of Standards [End Page 753] in Higher Education (CAS) and its CAS Professional Standards for Higher Education (CAS, 2006). At best, the standards indicate what should be in the curriculum (Cuyjet et al., 2009). Of special interest to this study, the CAS Standards includes addressing equity and access issues:

A graduate program must adhere to the spirit and intent of equal opportunity in all activities. The program must encourage establishment of an ethical community in which diversity is viewed as an ethical obligation.

(CAS, 2006, p. 354)

Although graduate preparation programs play a key role in the development of future practitioners, Pope, Reynolds, and Mueller (2004) acknowledged that acquiring multi cultural knowledge does not necessarily come from study in such a program. Instead, multicultural knowledge can be garnered from other channels, such as one's personal experiences. This emphasis on multicultural knowledge was one of the factors that instigated this study.

The Social Justice Factor

Social justice develops an understanding and appreciation of others and has come to be viewed as a critical element in education. Bell (1997) defined social justice as "the full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs" (p. 3). A good social justice foundation instills a sense of sociopolitical consciousness and attentiveness to positive social and cultural identities (Esposito & Swain, 2009; Gutstein, 2003). Therefore, an understanding of social justice increases attention on service, the overcoming of bigotry, and fostering community.

Students who are exposed to social justice issues within the curriculum exhibit an interest in social justice causes, know the roots of injustice, and develop the skills to effectively combat injustice (Buckley, 1998; Vera & Speight, 2003). It should not surprise us that students learn what they are taught. However, this does not mean that what an instructor thinks is being taught is what students learn; the two processes are sometimes disconnected. For this reason, the faculty in the higher and adult education doctoral program felt it important to explore social justice issues with current doctoral students, most of whom currently work within higher education or student affairs, to see what they had learned about social justice and when and where such learning occurred. For example, did this learning occur in the doctoral program or before in earlier educational programs, work or family, or in their communities? Did they feel prepared to operate in a diverse work environment? Last, if social justice can be taught, do these adult doctoral students have suggestions for how to do so?


Population and Sample

All current students of the doctoral program comprise the population (n = 60) surveyed. Twenty-four students completed the survey, a 40% return rate. Of currently enrolled doctoral students, 44% are African American and the remainder are Caucasian...


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pp. 753-759
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