Working for Social Justice


The film Precious knowledge illustrates how community activism can transform the educational experiences of young people in high school, how young people can take charge of their own education, and how a successful program can come under fire within a particular sociopolitical context.

Precious knowledge. (2011). [DVD, 70 min]. Dos Vatos Productions, Inc.

In 1997, community activism led the Tucson city council to set up a study committee to look at ways of boosting Latino student achievement and reducing dropout rates. Based on its findings, the school board unanimously voted to create what would become the Mexican American Studies Program. The movie illustrates what motivates Tucson High School students and teachers to form the front line of an epic civil rights battle. While 48% of Mexican American students currently drop out of high school, Tucson High’s Mexican American Studies Program has become a national model of educational success, with 93% of enrolled students graduating from high school. Arizona lawmakers are trying to shut the program down because they believe the students are being indoctrinated with dangerous ideology and embracing destructive ethnic chauvinism.

Show clip 1 to help illustrate how a program like the Mexican American Studies Program at Tucson’s high school can help plant seeds of change thorough critical reflection and positive action. 

Video Clip 1

Show  “History of Tucson’s 1969 High School Walkouts” available on the film website to help contextualize how a program such us Tucson’s Mexican American Studies Program came to be.


This is a movement. (2011). [Video, 3:32 min.]: Putthisonthemap.  

This video is for young people by young people about intersectionality of gender, sexuality, and other identities. The video speaks to how working for social justice is not just one movement.

Discussion Questions

2A: Working for Social Justice Context Section

  1. In your own words, define the concept of liberation. How do S. Pharr, Reflection on Liberation, B. J. Love, Developing a Liberatory Consciousness and B. Harro, The Cycle of Liberation help explain this concept for you? What are 2 or 3 examples of liberatory vision or action in these three readings that you would like to learn more about and why?
  2. In Toward a New Vision: Race, Class, and Gender as Categories of Analysis and Connection, P. H. Collins discusses the power of re-conceptualizing oppression in order to build the connections necessary to create change. How does this essay help you think about the value of bridging differences in power and privilege across lines of difference, such as race, class, and gender as well as ability, age, citizenship status, religion, and sexuality?
  3. What is your vision of building socially just relationships, community, and society? Free write and share your ideas with someone in your class.
  4. There are no easy answers to the question of what can we do to end oppression and create liberation. Read S. Pharr, Reflection on Liberation and Johnson, What Can We Do? Identify 4-5 methods and strategies that can help challenge privilege and oppression and promote liberatory practices in your community. What might be some challenges in putting these methods and strategies into action? What kind of support may you need?
  5. Based on the readings from the context section, brainstorm a list of possible actions you could consider taking to challenge intersecting forms of privilege on campus or in your neighborhood (e.g., transgender oppression, adultism, classism, heterosexism, racism, and citizenship status). Discuss with a classmate how you might go about taking one of these actions.

2B: Working for Social Justice Voices Section

  1. In his essay entitled Courage, Cornel West argues that it takes courage to interrogate oneself and asks: “How did I become so well adjusted to injustice?” What did you learn from this essay? How does Harro’s Cycle of Socialization in the Conceptual Frameworks Chapter help you understand why we are so well trained not to see injustice? How does Harro’s Cycle of Liberation in this chapter help you identify steps you can take to muster the courage to think critically and take actions that promote social justice in your own spheres of influence?
  2. We all need allies to help sustain our work for social justice. What did you learn about the role of allies from reading G. Anzaldúa’s interview? What did you find helpful about her perspective and why? What did you find challenging about her perspective and why? What are some next steps for you to developing trusting ally relationships?

2C: Working for Social Justice Next Steps Section

  1. Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” After reading C. Smith, Social Struggle, identify and discuss 3 of the strategies outlined that in your view have the greatest chance to bring small groups of people together in your community to address issues of diversity and justice that you care about.
  2. In On Solidarity, Decolonization, and Feminist Commitments,Chandra T. Mohanty discusses the concept of solidarity and decolonization as critical practices for feminist anti-capitalist movement building among diverse communities.  Pick one of these two concepts and discuss how they can be helpful to you or others in your community in trying to advance social justice.
  3. Read A. Ayvazian's Women, Race and Racism: A Dialogue in Black and White in the RacismChapter, and X. Zúñiga’s, G. Lopez and K. Ford, Intergroup dialogue as social justice pedagogy in this chapter. What are your personal hopes for dialogues across similar and different social identities? What steps could you take in your college campus to participate or organize dialogues across differences? Share your ideas with 2 or 3 of your classmates and discuss how you would go about taking some steps in this direction.
  4. Engaging in dialogues across differences can be both challenging and rewarding. Go to the Everyday Democracy website and review the “A comparison of dialogue and debate” handout. Select three of the characteristics that distinguish dialogue from debate and consider some steps you would need to take to prepare yourself to engage in a sustained dialogue effort about a controversial issue impacting in your community.
  5. After reading Alia Wong. The Renaissance of Student Activism,list 2-3 examples of student activism described in this selection that intrigued you. Why? If you are considering becoming an activist, search for two resources within this book’s companion website that may help support your goals. Share these resources with your class.


Further Resources

A public dialogue between bell hooks and Cornel West (2014). [Video, 1:27:01]: The New School.

This video shows a conversation between bell hooks and Cornel West on the topics of theory and practice, teaching, decolonization and critical reflection and more. Included in this video is a question and answer period from their talk at the New School.

American revolutionary: the evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.(2013). [Streaming Video, DVD, 1:24:00] LeeLeeFilms.; available on Netflix, Itunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and Amazon Instant Video.

This is the documentary on the life’s work of activist and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs who was still active at 98 years old. She died in 2015 at 100 years old. Her work primarily focused on the Black Power, labor, and civil rights movement, feminism, the Asian American and environmental justice movements and more. 

An interview with the founders of Black Lives Matter. (2016). [Video, 13:18 min.]: TedWomen, Mia Birdson with Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.

Born out of a social media post, the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked discussion about race and inequality across the world. In this spirited conversation with Mia Birdsong, the movement’s three founders share what they have learned about leadership and what sustains them.

Dolores. (2017). [Movie, 1 hour 35 min]: PBS Distribution Presents a Carlos Santana Production in association with 5 Stick Films.;

This film documents the life of activist, feminist, and co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association, Dolores Huerta. The film interviews Dolores Huerta, family members, and people who have worked with her. Her lifelong career continues today at 87 years old, Dolores Huerta still is active in fighting for others. The themes explore not only the plight of those with whom she worked in solidarity but also struggles she faced against systemic oppression of women.

Growing roses in concrete. (2011). [Video, 13:29 min.] TedxGoldenGate Ed. Ted Talk by Jeff Duncan-Andrade.

In his Ted Talk, Duncan-Andrade talks about implementing educational practices that are user centered and problem specific.  He also talks about the 5 parts of the Cycle of Critical Praxis: 1. The identification of the problem, 2. Researching the problem, 3. Development of a collective plan to address the problem, 4. The implementation of the plan of action, 5. The evaluation of the action.

Islamophobia killed my brother. Let’s end the hate. (2016) [Video, 14:49 min.]: TedWomen Talk by Suzanne Barakat.

When her brother, his wife Yusor, and Yusor’s sister, Razan were killed in 2015 by a neighbor in North Carolina, the media did not follow up closely with the alleged dispute until Suzanne Barakat spoke up about the hate crimes that were their murders. Her narrative expresses how she and her family reclaimed the narrative and encourages us to not just bear witness to hate but also speak up and be allies instead of silent bystanders.

Precious knowledge (2011). [DVD, 70 min]: Dos Vatos Productions, Inc.

The movie Precious Knowledge illustrates what motivates Tucson High School students and teachers to form the front line of an epic civil rights battle. While 48 percent of Mexican-American students currently drop out of high school, Tucson High’s Mexican American Studies Program has become a national model of educational success, with 93 percent of enrollment students graduating from high school. However, Arizona lawmakers are trying to shut the program down because they believe the students are being indoctrinated with dangerous ideology and embracing destructive ethnic chauvinism.

She’s beautiful when she’s angry. (2014). [Streaming Video & DVD, 1:32:00]: Music Box Films.

This movie talks about the women who founded the women’s movement from 1966 to 1971 in the United States. This documentary also includes information about the founding of women’s organizations like NOW and more.

Trickle-up social justice. (2014). [Video, 4:45 min.]: Barnard Center for Research on Women.

In this video we see an excerpt from Dean Spade’s lecture on “Trans Politics on a Neoliberal Landscape”.  Spade talks about dominant neoliberal ideas and calls for a  focus on the distribution of life chances, we need to look at the needs of the vulnerable rather than the needs of the most privileged.

Whose streets?. (2017). [Streaming Video, Movie 1:41:31]. Magnolia Pictures.;

This film documents activists and leaders’ perspectives during the Ferguson, Missouri uprising in response to when unarmed teenager Michael Brown was killed in 2014 by police and left in the street for hours.