Editor's Note: Higher Education's Role in Advancing Social Justice

By Caitlin Salins, Project Manager, Bringing Theory to Practice

On March 24, 2018, thousands of people across the United States took part in the student-organized March for Our Lives in protest against the lack of effective legislation to counter issues of gun violence, and especially the recent string of mass shootings at institutions of learning. Over the past year and a half of extreme divisiveness, organized protests have almost become commonplace; yet, the March for Our Lives movement seems to hold a special power—likely due in part to the fact that it is strikingly led by a new generation. Their age and passion are notable, not just because they dare to speak truth to power, but because they represent the future of our society.

At Bringing Theory to Practice (BTtoP), we assert that higher education’s greater purposes should be the cultivation of student learning, well-being, civic engagement, and preparation for a meaningful life. As such, it is critical that higher education builds environments that support students’ ability to participate as civic activists, to advance the public good, to break down systems of inequality, and to foster empathetic relationships with the “other.” However, we know that the work of forging higher education’s institutional culture toward the long arc of social justice is fraught with many barriers—ranging from lack of structural support, collaboration, and resources, to active pushback from various campus constituents.

In this issue of the BTtoP Newsletter, we explore what these efforts to stand for forces of social justice look like in different contexts: through the lens of a faculty member using dialogue to address “master narratives” of institutionally embedded racism; through the voice of a community college president urging leaders at colleges and universities to proclaim (and support with action) their democratic commitment to and support of student activism efforts; from the executive director of a nonprofit organization enabling global relationships and cross-cultural understanding for students, despite their varying levels of inherited privilege and access; and from BTtoP’s outgoing director as he affirms the core purposes of higher education, having witnessed over five decades of campus activism and societal progression.