This blog has been written by our fantastic Student Experience Intern, Matt. In it, he gives you a student’s perspective on the Social Justice Challenge and why it’s worth an hour of your time…
Personally, I was able to take a lot away from the Social Justice Challenge that I will be able to apply to both my university studies and future work. The range of engaging themes encouraged me to challenge how I thought about issues of social justice whilst posing important questions that are worth considering. It drew attention to the broader systemic issues that often underpin social injustice, and highlighted that it is these we need to consider when questioning how we implement long-term solutions to achieving equality.
As a History student, I often learn and write about an array of historical societies, examining different experiences and inequalities that may exist within these. The framework of understanding social injustice as a complex, often systemic, problem can be directly applied to my work, allowing me to broaden my questioning in understanding why social injustices may exist. Additionally, in demonstrating the prevalence of injustice across our society, the Social Justice Challenge highlights the importance of social responsibility and awareness. Educating people on the factors that underpin inequality and the questions we need to consider in addressing these issues will help to facilitate real change, and it is this message that I will continue to remember and implement as I enter the workplace following graduation.
What is the Social Justice Challenge?
The Social Justice Challenge is offered to all undergraduates at the University of Manchester and encourages students to explore issues of social justice and hopefully inspire them to take action. The challenge introduces you to six themes to explore: Mental Health, Higher Education, Migration, Homelessness, Race, and Energy, all of which are approached from a social justice perspective. Throughout the challenge you will engage with a broad range of academics from across disciplines, highlighting the importance of an inter-disciplinary approach to considering societal issues. Importantly, the Social Justice Challenge will help you to become a more informed, thoughtful and critical individual aware of the ethical, social and environmental responsibilities we have in tackling the injustices in our society.
The first part of the Social Justice Challenge you must complete is the introduction. The introduction aims to introduce the concept of social justice and what it involves, whilst also proposing some key questions to be considered as you work through the subsequent themed challenges. It is important for us to define our own understanding of social justice, as it is our own ideas that influence how we think, talk and act about social justice. As well as exploring how we conceptualise social justice, the introduction also prompts you to consider the extension of social justice, questioning ‘Justice in what?’ ‘Justice among whom?’ alongside ‘Who gets to decide in the first place?’. The introduction, therefore, is incredibly useful for students in shaping their approach to social justice, as it encourages them to consider their conceptualisation of the concept as well as providing key questions applicable throughout the challenge. You then move onto the themes, of which you choose two to explore in order to complete the challenge.
The first theme you can choose is Energy. This part of the Social Justice Challenge explores energy poverty and energy justice, evaluating global energy systems and accessibility whilst proposing a framework for evaluating technological energy solutions justly. Whilst energy may not be the first thing you think of when considering social justice, its importance to 21st century society means it cannot be ignored. This is highlighted by demonstrating how lack of access to clean, efficient, modern forms of energy affect people’s full participation in society, wherever they are in the world. Crucially, alongside highlighting the existing injustices, this theme also considers the future by considering the changes necessary to address energy poverty and to secure universal energy access.
The second theme available is Higher Education which seeks to explore injustices surrounding the accessibility to university education. This theme will encourage students to consider important questions surrounding access to university and university funding, asking: ‘Who should go to University? ‘Who benefits from University?’ and ‘Who should pay for it?’. As students, it is incredibly important that we consider these questions, as it is our social responsibility to expose any inequalities that exist within our system and consider ways to address these. Evaluating the higher education system is of high of relevance for students, as it can give us a voice in ensuring the entire system is adequately funded and fit for purpose, whilst eradicating injustice.
Homelessness is the next theme, exploring the reasons why people become homeless, how this relates to social justice and how this issue can be addressed in a socially just way. This theme firmly establishes homelessness as a social justice issue, demonstrating that it is created and perpetuated by the inequalities in society. Students are encouraged to understand the multiplicity of causes and social processes that contribute to homelessness, thus challenging people to change the way they think and talk about homeless people. As students in Manchester, the local authority with the 4th highest number of rough sleepers, this issue is very relevant to our community, making it increasingly important that we begin to consider long term solutions that reflect and address its complexity.
Mental Health is another theme available and this aims to discuss the reasons behind mental health inequalities, as well as what needs to be done to address them. Whilst awareness of mental health issues has improved recently, this part of the Social Justice Challenge seeks to demonstrate there still remains a great deal of stigma, discrimination and social injustice relating to mental illness. Students will be able to understand that inequalities in health arise due to inequalities in society, and that the social gradient can contribute to the risk of developing a mental health problem. As students, we are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues, with 78% of students in 2015 saying they had experienced issues in the past year. Therefore it is massively important, both for the student population and broader society, that we take steps to increasing our awareness of mental health problems, and that we use this understanding to begin to tackle social injustices.
The next theme is Migration, that seeks to reaffirm movement in search of the fulfilment of core aspirations as a key human enterprise. Students will have the opportunity to explore the ways contemporary discourses and policies around migration intersect with social justice. Attention will be given to the challenges migrants face globally, particularly how representations and paperwork massively shape their personal experiences. As globalisation continues to rise, it is increasingly important that we remember universal rights for people migrating do exist, and that it is our social responsibility to fight against the exclusionary, nationalist and populist policies that are so often detrimental to social justice.
The final theme is race, examining the ways in which ‘race’ and racism contribute to inequality of opportunities, particularly in the workplace and education, whilst questioning what can be done to address these. Exploration will be given to the historical roots of ‘race’, as well as how it continues to shape and influence lives in contemporary society and why this matters. Students will be able to understand that racism is inherently linked to power, with the ability to subjugate, dominate and discriminate against others remaining deeply entrenched into societal systems and processes. Despite its long history, ‘institutional racism’ remains prevalent in society today and the current events world-wide, such as the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on People of Colour, #BlackLivesMatter protests and the rise of ‘Far Right’ and ‘White Supremacist’ movements demonstrate the continued importance of understanding and fighting social injustices related to race.
To finish the Social Justice Challenge you will need to complete the introduction as well as two themes of your choosing. By completing this challenge you’ll be on your way to achieving the Stellify Award, the University’s most prestigious extra-curricular award for undergraduate students. The Stellify Award gives you a unique and personalised set of experiences beyond your studies, allowing you to graduate as an adaptable, creative and globally minded individual.
Why not try the Social Justice Challenge for yourself by heading here: http://www.egc.manchester.ac.uk/socialjustice/