Course Activity: “Social Justice: A Definition and a Foundation”


Assignment Title: Social Justice: A Definition and a Foundation

Authors: Kat M. Gray, Virginia Tech (

Date published: August, 2022

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Class Info/Tags: Face-to-Face, Anti-Racist Pedagogies, Digital Rhetoric, Multimodal Rhetorics, Technical Communication, Writing for Social Media

Course Motivation: “In this course, students will explore the intersection of writing and social justice issues, both analyzing existing discourses and creating/designing texts themselves. This writing course offers an introduction to the ways in which rhetoric and discourse are used in relation to issues of social justice in the United States and beyond. Through an examination of texts surrounding various social justice issues, the class will investigate how “justice” might be perceived differently by various stakeholders and how that difference potentially impacts the effects of justice-oriented writing, design, and advocacy. Together we will learn about how positionality, privilege, and power play significant roles in our lives and in our advocacy. Together we will learn how we might use the expertise we’ve gained through our lived experiences and the perspectives and expertise of others to effectively advocate for equity. College-level writing and analytical skills are emphasized through the various assignments in the class and the course has several opportunities for collaboration. This is a Pathways course covering core concepts Discourse (Core Concept 1a) and Critical Analysis of Identity and Equity in the United States (Core Concept 7).”

Context of Use: Used to open the course (first 3 class sessions). Meets MW. The first three course meetings are intended to accomplish the following goals: 1) introduce students to the course and its structure; 2) create a basic definition of justice with which to begin the course (one that will change over the term as we expand our understanding); and 3) create an agreed-upon standard for course work (similar to a grading contract) for use throughout the semester, which will be revisited and updated if need be.

Instructor Reflection: Instructor preparation for this activity should be contextualized. For example, to discuss the Code of Conduct we brainstorm on days 2-3, I utilize both Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community and the Land and Labor Acknowledgement as base social justice texts we might consider to understand how social justice is reflected in actions and behavior. Most institutions of learning have similar statements which can be used in place of these, and some departments may even have their own social justice statements. Pull whatever materials are most contextually helpful for you. Additionally, this approach is specifically tailored to function within an ungrading ecosystem. This means that students are responsible for a great deal of self-evaluation, and those opportunities must be built into the semester with care in order to arrive at a reasonable, carefully considered grade for the student at the end of the term. As an instructor in this course, it’s your job to help facilitate that process for them, not to hand down a grade. This activity will also likely work with contract grading approaches, which have similar values, and a similar need to spend time at the beginning of the semester setting up principles by which work can be evaluated and course grades attained. It has not been tested in courses which are graded “traditionally,” i.e. through rubrics that assign point and letter grades based in systems that ask for compliance with norms of white language supremacy (WLS). See Dr. Asao Inoue’s work on writing assessment ecologies for more details.

About Author

Jennifer Burke Reifman

Jennifer Burke Reifman is a 5th year Education Ph.D. Candidate at U.C. Davis with an emphasis in Writing, Rhetoric, and Composition Studies. Her research focuses on technology in the writing classroom, writing program administration, and student identity and agency. When she isn't being a graduate student and writing teacher, she spends most of her time playing with her 3-year old son, tending her backyard garden, or diving into a video game.

Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes is a PhD candidate in the Joint Program in English & Education at the University of Michigan, where she also teaches in the English Department Writing Program. Her research interests include digital rhetoric, gender and discourse, and gaming studies. Her dissertation project explores how women use multimodal discourse—grammatically, narratively, and visually—to navigate online gaming ecologies.